Jon Rahm ditched PGA Tour for LIV. Why is he talking like a PGA fanboy?

Maybe Jon Rahm knows something the rest of us don’t. Or maybe he’s the biggest sucker in professional golf, an easy mark who got sweet-talked and money-whipped by Greg Norman and the Saudis into taking a deal that will doom him to a lifetime of professional regret. 

It was hard to tell Tuesday at the PGA Championship, when Rahm strolled into a press conference and said the following in response to a question about how he sees the PGA Tour’s messy backroom politics now that he plays for LIV Golf. 

“You guys keep saying ‘the other side,’ but I’m still a PGA Tour member, whether suspended or not,” Rahm said. ‘I still want to support the PGA Tour. And I think that’s an important distinction to make. I don’t feel like I’m on the other side, I’m just not playing there.”

Did Rahm’s reported $300 million contract with LIV come with a duty to abandon all pretense of self-awareness? Or has dining out on the Saudi dime eroded his thoughtfulness the same way it turned some of his colleagues (cough, Dustin Johnson, cough) into monuments of the competitive fire they used to possess?

If Rahm believed sincerely last December that joining the hit-and-giggle tour would help bring the PGA Tour and LIV closer to unification, the only honest way to assess his decision is that it failed. 

He’s not moving the needle for LIV, which remains a bizarre product that isn’t seriously competing for eyeballs with the PGA Tour. 

His departure hasn’t forced the PGA Tour to get its own house in order because all public indications are that it’s as messy as ever behind the scenes. 

And at this point, the goals of LIV and the Tour appear so far apart – and negotiations between them so slow – that it’s difficult to conceive what it will take to get the best players in the world reunified under one banner. 

If Rahm is happy as a LIV golfer, playing on a tour where the results don’t matter while most of his contemporaries and friends squabble over the Tour’s backroom politics, that’s perfectly fine. We are far beyond the point in this debacle where it’s worth the oxygen to criticize individuals for the career decisions they’ve made or worry about who’s got the moral high ground.

When it comes to who’s got the best interests of professional golf in mind, it’s impossible at this point to distinguish the good guys from bad. That’s how badly the PGA Tour has bungled every aspect of the LIV threat. 

But what’s very clear is that Rahm made a choice last December. And now he has the temerity to show up at the second major of the year trying to position himself not merely as a supporter of the PGA Tour but as a member in the middle of a well-paid, temporary absence? 

That’s not going to fly with either golf fans or Rahm’s former colleagues. It’s intellectually dishonest. It’s borderline delusional. And it may be actively unhelpful given the current environment where there’s a clear divide between PGA Tour players pushing for unification and those on the PGA Tour policy board who seem at minimum to be resisting compromise. 

Last week, the big drama involved a revelation that Rory McIlroy tried to get back on the policy board after resigning his seat last year but was blocked by the current members. Some reporting suggested a growing rift between McIlroy, who has advocated for striking a deal with the Saudi-run Public Investment Fund (PIF), and the current Tour powerbrokers who include Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods. 

“It’s good to see it differently, but collectively as a whole we want to see whatever is best for all the players, the fans and the state of golf,” Woods said Tuesday. “How we get there, that’s to be determined. But the fact we’re in this together and in this fight together to make golf better is what it’s all about.”

Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated reported Monday that investment mogul Jimmy Dunne, who worked closely with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and PIF leader Yasir Al-Rumayyan on last year’s framework agreement to bring the two entities together, has resigned his position on the PGA Tour board. 

In a letter to his colleagues, Dunne wrote that “no meaningful progress has been made towards a transaction with the PIF” since the players were given more power in Tour decisions and that he can no longer help realize his goal of reunifying the game. 

There’s no real clarity at the moment about what the Woods/Spieth/Cantlay group wants to see to get a deal done. Are they just flat-out opposed to the likes of Rahm and Brooks Koepka being able to play PGA Tour events after taking the Saudi money that they themselves refused? Do they simply want to play all their golf in North America rather than a more worldwide tour that the PIF would likely prefer? 

It’s hard to say because nobody wants to talk directly about terms given the sensitivity of negotiations that seem to be stalled. 

“It’s ongoing, it’s fluid, it changes day to day,” Woods said. ‘Has there been progress? Yes. But it’s an ongoing negotiation so a lot of work ahead for all of us with this process, and we’re making steps. It may not be giant steps, but we’re making steps.”

Maybe they need to walk a little faster. 

Divvying up the world’s best players across two tours has had a predictable effect on fans: They’re sick of the politics. They’re stunned by the greed. And they’re watching less golf on television this year as a result. Even the final round of the Masters this year took a hit, dropping 20 percent from 2023. 

If you’re a golf fan who lives and breathes this stuff, the present is exhausting and the future is frightening. If you’re a more casual viewer or someone who buys a ticket to their local tournament one day a year, it’s completely nuts that McIlroy and Spieth are competing on a different tour than Rahm and Koepka. What planet are these guys living on? 

Whether or not you have a moral objection to Saudi sportswashing and its growing influence in a wide profile of leagues across the world, the reality is that you can either bring them on mutually agreeable terms or let them destroy you. While LIV has not been a financial success and often seems like a caricature of a competitive sport with its 54-hole tournaments, distracting team format and dance music constantly blaring in the background, it’s not going away anytime soon. 

And LIV has forced some long-overdue changes to the PGA Tour’s schedule, its purse structure and how players engage with the future of their enterprise. Phil Mickelson wasn’t wrong about everything. 

But at least Mickelson, as cynical and greedy as he was, picked a side and didn’t apologize for doing it. Rahm wants to play both sides while getting a pat on the back for the choice he didn’t make as opposed to the one he made. He wants us to be just as wistful as he is that he no longer gets to play the Waste Management or the Farmers and is instead wasting time on unserious golf in Jeddah and Singapore. 

But Rahm made his choice. He’s a LIV guy now who wants the PGA Tour guys to think he’s still one of them. It doesn’t work that way – not now, and maybe not ever. 

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