Jon Rahm’s LIV defection would be the ultimate Saudi power play before pivotal PGA Tour talks

Jon Rahm is thought to be considering his future in the game

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There is no proof that Jon Rahm is about to turn his back on the PGA Tour and join LIV Golf. There has been no confirmation that the world No 3 is about to sign a £500m contract with the Saudi league. Frankly, there is almost no information at all. But fervid rumours have been allowed to grow and spread for days, unanswered by Rahm or his camp, and the silence is deafening.

What seems clear is that there have been talks, although LIV has approached every elite golfer over the past two years so that is no real surprise. Rahm may yet still turn around and say no. But there is an increasing sense within golf that LIV will soon announce its biggest coup yet, bigger still than poaching Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka or Cameron Smith.

It would be something seismic. Rahm would be the first European giant to go. He is the reigning Masters champion and among the four best players in the world. He is the Saudis’ top realistic target, given how vigorously Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have denigrated LIV and ruled themselves out of a move.

If the rumours are true, it would be a giant blow to the PGA Tour, not only because Rahm’s exit would weaken the quality and attraction of its prize events, but because of what it would symbolise: an almighty power play ahead of pivotal peace talks between PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment fund, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, to shape the future of golf.

Many onlookers inferred from their bombshell unification announcement in June that there would no longer be this aggressive hunting of PGA stars, and that LIV might even be shut down, with the PIF instead agreeing to throw its weight behind golf’s traditional tours. But the Saudi onslaught on sport continues unabated. There have been numerous coups over the past few years, from securing a race on the F1 calendar to signing Cristiano Ronaldo. Rahm would be another bold win: an elite athlete at the very top of his game, lured away from a fragile PGA Tour.

Given Monahan’s stated goal to unify the game, you can see why Rahm might think that taking an eye-watering paycheque to play for the Crushers or Fireballs for a year or two is worth the pain of walking away from some prestigious PGA events. If PGA-PIF talks go well then he might even be welcomed back in time to be eligible for the next Ryder Cup, in New York in 2025.

Even those in the know don’t seem to quite know what will happen next. Tiger Woods is at the heart of negotiations between the PGA Tour, the DP Tour and PIF, and said he’d be surprised if Rahm was jumping ship. Jordan Spieth, who recently joined Woods on the PGA Tour’s policy board following Rory McIlroy’s resignation, said Rahm’s exit “would really not be very good for us”.

“Rahm is one of the biggest assets that we have on the PGA Tour,” Spieth said. “I know there’s been some guys that have talked to him. I know he’s maybe weighing some decisions … I could speak probably on behalf of 200-plus PGA Tour players in saying that we really hope that he’s continuing with us.”

Ahead of the deadline for a decision on 31 December, there is still no clarity on how the merger will work in practice. One of the many sticking points is how to reintegrate LIV rebels into the PGA Tour after they either resigned or were barred following their defection. It is a delicate time, and should Rahm switch sides it will only strengthen the Saudi hand.

“Everything is now at a time crunch,” Woods said of the talks. “It’s 24 hours a day just trying to figure it out. Part of the deal we’re working on [is] trying to find a pathway [for LIV rebels], whatever that looks like. There’s so many different scenarios and a lot of sleepless hours trying to figure that out and what it looks like.”

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