In a deal that could have a far-reaching impact on the future landscape of men’s professional golf and inject even more uncertainty into an already-fractured sport, Masters champion Jon Rahm has agreed to leave the PGA Tour for the Saudi Arabian-financed LIV Golf League, sources confirmed to ESPN on Thursday.
LIV Golf is expected to announce Rahm’s addition Thursday, barring a last-minute change of heart from the former world No. 1 player, the sources said.
The deal is believed to be longer than three years, is worth more than $300 million and will include an ownership stake for Rahm in a new LIV Golf team, according to sources. LIV Golf is recruiting additional PGA Tour players to fill out the roster of Rahm’s team.
Rahm’s decision comes at a time when the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund are attempting to hammer out the final details of a framework agreement that would combine their commercial interests into a new for-profit entity, PGA Tour Enterprises.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the PIF, are scheduled to meet next week. The PIF has spent more than $3 billion funding the LIV Golf League the past two seasons. The framework agreement is set to expire Dec. 31; Monahan called the date a “firm deadline” last week.
The framework agreement gives Monahan authority to determine the future of LIV Golf, which has struggled to gain a foothold in the U.S. but has generated significant interest in Australia, Singapore, Spain and other countries. Sources told ESPN the future of LIV Golf and whether team golf has a place in the sport‘s future ecosystem have emerged as sticking points for the Saudis during negotiations.
It’s unclear how Rahm’s defection will impact the proposed alliance. LIV Golf’s ability to poach a player of Rahm’s caliber would seem to give the Saudis leverage in negotiations, as the PGA Tour is also entertaining offers from a handful of U.S.-based investors.
The June 6 framework agreement included a clause that prohibited both sides from attempting to poach each other’s players, but it was removed after the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division raised concerns that it restricted competition.
A conglomerate led by Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Penguins, is among the final potential bidders, sources told ESPN. So is Liberty Media Corporation, which has ownership stakes in Formula One, Sirius XM and the Atlanta Braves, and Acorn Growth Companies, an Oklahoma City-based equity group that had previously focused on the aerospace and defense industries.
Sources previously told ESPN the PGA Tour could form a partnership with both the PIF and a U.S.-based equity firm because of concerns that a PIF-only deal would not be approved by federal regulators in the U.S. and abroad.
Rahm is the second reigning major championship winner to leave the PGA Tour for the LIV Golf League at the height of his career. In August 2022, Australia’s Cameron Smith signed with LIV Golf about six weeks after he picked up his first major championship at the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews Links in Scotland.
Rahm, 29, won 11 times on the PGA Tour and collected more than $51.5 million in on-course earnings during his career. This past season, he won four times and pocketed about $16.5 million in purses. He is a finalist for PGA Tour Player of the Year.
Rahm joins LIV Golf’s roster of captains that also includes past major championship winners Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Bubba Watson and Henrik Stenson.
Rahm’s decision comes less than eight months after he became the fourth Spanish golfer to win a green jacket at the Masters, defeating Mickelson and Koepka by 4 strokes at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9. That victory might have made Rahm’s decision to join LIV Golf easier, as he earned a lifetime exemption into the Masters and five-year exemptions into the PGA Championship and The Open.
Rahm already has a spot in the U.S. Open field through 2031 after winning his first major at the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California.
The governing bodies that stage the major championships — Augusta National Golf Club (Masters), PGA of America (PGA Championship), R&A (The Open) and United States Golf Association (U.S. Open) — have largely remained on the sideline during the ongoing battle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf and haven’t prohibited players from either circuit from playing in their tournaments.
PIF officials have been recruiting Rahm for months, according to sources. He hasn’t criticized the LIV Golf League like many PGA Tour players have, in part because of his friendship with Mickelson and past Ryder Cup teammates such as Sergio Garcia. Mickelson’s brother and caddie, Tim, was Rahm’s coach at Arizona State and his first agent. Mickelson and Rahm are represented by the same agent, Steve Loy of SportFive.
Still, Rahm’s decision is a stunning about-face for a 22-time worldwide winner who is considered one of the fiercest competitors in the game. Before the 2022 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, Rahm was asked about his interest in joining the upstart circuit.
“Yeah, money is great, but when [my wife] Kelly and I, this first thing happened, we started talking about it and we’re like, ‘Would our lifestyle change if we got $400 million?’ No,” Rahm said. “It would not change one bit. Truth be told, I could retire right now and I could live a very happy life and not play golf again. I’ve never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world.”
Rahm talked about his desire to play in the tournaments with history and tradition, including the majors and PGA Tour invitationals.
“I have always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that,” Rahm said. “There’s a meaning when you win the Memorial Championship. There’s a meaning when you win Arnold Palmer’s event at Bay Hill. There’s a meaning when you win L.A., Torrey, some of these historic venues. That to me matters a lot. After winning this past U.S. Open, only me and Tiger [Woods] have won at Torrey Pines. Making putts on 18 — that’s a memory that I’m going to have forever that not many people can say.”
Before the Ryder Cup in Italy earlier this year, after Rahm voiced his support for Garcia and other LIV Golf players being allowed to compete for the European team, he was asked again about his interest in LIV Golf by a Spanish-language podcast.
“Phil Mickelson respects my decision and I respect his decision,” Rahm said. “He has told me that I have no reason to go to LIV. And he has told me that several times. I laugh when people rumor me with LIV. I’ve never liked the format.”
But now the LIV Golf League, with its 54-hole format, team and individual competitions and shotgun starts, has a new face of its league. As a two-time major championship winner and one of the best players in the world, Rahm brings instant credibility.
“I’m not sure specifically how it would impact those negotiations, but all in all, Jon Rahm is one of the biggest assets that we have on the PGA Tour,” PGA Tour player director Jordan Spieth said at last week’s Hero World Challenge. “So it would really be not very good for us in general, because we want to play against the best players in the world, and that’s what Jon is.”