Column: So Much For Peace & Harmony In The World Of Golf

By Paul Newberry, AP
So much for peace and harmony in the world of golf.

Jon Rahm’s surprising defection from the PGA Tour to Saudi-funded LIV shows just how fractured the sport remains, even as it faces an end-of-the-year deadline to finalize an agreement that was supposed to make everything kumbaya.

Only one thing is clear: The idea that two tours can somehow co-exist to the benefit of both is ludicrous.

It’s never worked in any other sport, and there’s no reason to think that the PGA Tour and LIV can somehow walk this perilous tightrope.

There’s too much money involved, too many egos, too much potential power. Forget the idea of everyone coming together with two different visions of how the game should look. There will be a winner — and a loser — at some point.

“LIV Golf is here to stay,” crowed Lawrence Burian, the upstart tour’s chief operating officer.

Hard to argue with his braggadocious prognostication.

After a few months of relative tranquility following an apparent agreement to end the feud — though initial talk of a full-blown merger was clearly overblown — LIV and its seemingly limitless bank account fired their biggest salvo yet on Thursday.

Rahm, the reigning Masters champion and world’s third-ranked player, announced he was joining LIV for an offer that very likely eclipsed the total purse that was paid out for every event on the PGA Tour this year.

After repeatedly saying he doesn’t play the game for money and had no desire to jump to LIV, the Spaniard finally got an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“I’ve been very happy,” Rahm said. “But there is a lot of things that LIV Golf has to offer that were very enticing.”

Of course, we all know the main thing LIV has to offer is a paycheck with a LOT of zeroes behind that dollar sign, but to call Rahm a hypocrite would be, well, hypocritical.

Everything changed in early June, when the PGA Tour pulled off its own surprise by abruptly announcing that it had agreed in principle, along with the European tour, to join the Saudi backers of LIV in a commercial partnership that gave the Saudis what they wanted most of all: a seat at golf’s head table and another step toward sportswashing their terrible record on human rights.

By making peace with the Saudis, with a Dec. 31 deadline to finalize all the details, the tour blindsided some of its most loyal players — most notably, Rory McIlroy — and essentially ceded the high ground in this civil war.

How could one criticize Rahm — or any other player — for taking life-changing money from LIV when the PGA Tour has decided to go into business with this morally dubious organization?

Forget the talk of blood money. The only color now is green.

“The thing I realized is you can’t judge someone for making a decision that they feel is the best thing for them. Is it disappointing for me? Yes. But the landscape of golf changed on June 6, whenever the framework agreement was announced,” McIlory told Sky Sports. “I think because of that it made the jump from PGA Tour to LIV a little bit easier for guys. They let the first guys take the heat. This framework agreement legitimatized basically what LIV was trying to do.”

Indeed, Rahm’s desertion feels different from those who went before him.

Golfers such as Phil Mickelson, in his 50s with his best days clearly behind him. Or Brooks Koepka, who had battled injuries and wasn’t necessarily sure how many healthy days he had ahead of him.

For them, the idea of never playing again on the PGA Tour was a gamble worth taking.

But Rahm is just 29 and seemingly headed into the prime of a career that already has netted two major championships. It feels as if he’s double-dipping, taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the Saudis with the caveat that he’ll be able to return to the PGA Tour in some form or fashion one day to flush out his legacy.

That seems a prudent stance, especially when one considers the history of every other sport where a rival league came along to challenge an established circuit.

Usually, the organization that’s already there emerges as the sole survivor. You might’ve noticed that the American Basketball Association and World Hockey Association no longer exist.

One of the few examples of a new group waging a successful uprising was the American Football League, which needed only six years to force an equal merger with the NFL that has been wildly successful for all concerned.

On the other hand, IndyCar racing never recovered from its own civil war. While the upstart Indy Racing League eventually took down CART, the entire sport carried on in a weakened state that it’s yet to recover from, more than a quarter-century later.

What will be the outcome of the PGA Tour vs. LIV?

Maybe it comes in a form similar to the AFL-NFL merger, where the two tours are essentially combined, with the Saudis getting an even more prominent role in how things are run. Perhaps the remnants of LIV carry on in a team format that is held several times throughout the year, sprinkled among the regular events, a sort of competition within the competition like the NBA’s new In-Season Tournament.

Or maybe it follows the path of IndyCar, with LIV’s overwhelming resources eventually forcing the PGA Tour to throw up a white flag, but the entire sport weakened to such an extent that there are no real winners.

Whatever the case, the next Ryder Cup at Bethpage in 2025, matching the best players from Europe against the best players from the United States, seems the likely breaking point.

LIV players from the European tour were barred from this year’s competition, in which Rahm went unbeaten in four matches to help Europe reclaim the cup with a decisive five-point victory over the Americans.

“He’s such a good player. He’s got so much talent. He’s so tenacious. He’s a great teammate in the Ryder Cup. I have nothing but good things to say about Jon,” McIlroy said.

And, he made sure to point this out.

“Jon is going to be in Bethpage in 2025,” McIlroy said. “There’s no question about that.”