Rahm can eat his own word salad, with caviar on the side
Golf drama is now a 12-month thing, with Rahm's LIV Golf commitment, and a throttled-down golf ball.
Our TVs will show a lot less of Jon Rahm.
Our drivers won’t carry those fairway bunkers anymore.
Thanks, golf. Thanks for the holiday cheer.
The game used to go into hibernation right after the World Series, not to surface again until Palm Springs. Now, its issues consume the whole calendar, and they aren’t as simple as Jack Nicklaus’ diet.
The U.S. Golf Assocation and the Royal & Ancient decreed that it will reduce the distance of the golf ball, for pros and amateurs alike, beginning in 2028.
By then, who knows what will remain of the PGA Tour? On Thursday, Rahm announced he was leaving for LIV Golf, the renegade group funded by the Saudis, with 54-hole no-cut events and money for nothing.
This falls somewhere between Sal Maglie leaving the Giants for the Dodgers, and Hulk Hogan joining up with the NWO. It requires considerable amnesia on Rahm’s part and ours.
Rahm is the third-ranked player in the world and the reigning Masters champion. In 2022 he won the U.S. Open. With this move he forfeits his place in PGA Tour events. He will get no more Official Golf World Rankings points. He has a lifetime pass to the Masters and is eligible for the U.S. Open through 2031, and can play in the PGA and the Open Championship through 2027.
By then, this silliness should be over, and the two tours should have merged into a worldwide golden goose. But who knows? LIV Golf has promised Rahm the captaincy of one of its teams, which means he’ll need to find three teammates. Considering the money involved, he can recruit like George Steinbrenner.
Rahm’s deal is for three years, at least. The money figure is still unknown, or unearthed. Estimates go from $300 million to $565 million, and that doesn’t count the prize money on a tour that Rahm should dominate. It’s absurd to criticize Rahm for taking it, but it does require forgetting all the staunch support Rahm has given the Tour over the last year and a half.
— “I laugh when people rumor me with LIV golf. I never liked the format. And I always have a good time with Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia in the practice rounds of majors. Phil respects my decision and I respect his choice. Mickelson has told me that I have no reason to go play for LIV. and he has told me that multiple times.”
“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. I’ve always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that. (Rahm’s wife) Kelley, we’ve talked about it, and we’re like, will our lifestyle change if I got $400 million? No, it will not change one bit.”
So, yeah, it’s more than $400 million.
The Europeans who jumped to LIV last year, like Garcia and Lee Westwood, were deemed ineligible for the Ryder Cup, but nobody thinks that will happen to Rahm. Rory McIlroy, LIV Golf’s implacable foe, congratulated Rahm Thursday and said the European Tour ‘is going to have to rewrite the rules for Ryder Cup eligibility. Absolutely. Jon is going to be in Bethpage (site of the 2025 Cup).”
Rahm was recruited to Arizona State by coach Tim Mickelson, who now caddies for Phil, and Rahm’s agent is Steve Loy, the former ASU coach who represents the Mickelsons. All of those relationships played a part. There is undoubtedly a seductive appeal to a 14-tournament schedule, with 10 events outside the U.S.
But LIV Golf still has a visibility problem. Its events on the CW Network drew ratings befitting an infomercial. The event at Bedminster last year lit up 181,000 TV sets on Saturday, 187,000 on Sunday. At the same time, the PGA Tour’s playoff event at Memphis had an audience of 3.2 million on Sunday.
The new PGA Tour schedule might have alienated Rahm. This year there will be eight “signature events.” They’re open to the top 50 players on last year’s money list, plus 20 other spots reserved for members of the proletariat who play well. They also have $20 million purses. Add the majors, the Players Championship and the FedEx Cup playoff events, and that’s 16 must-play tournaments on the PGA Tour alone, plus the Euro Tour events that Rahm enjoyed. At LIV, Rahm can play two events a month for seven months and then prepare for the majors, which, at this point, are his focus anyway.
Last year, four LIV players earned over $13 million in prize money, led by Talor Gooch at $17 million. And Rahm’s move gives LIV even more major tournament cachet. Today’s LIV golfers have won eight of the last 14 Masters, three of the last 10 Open Championships, four of the last six PGA Championships and five of the last eight U.S. Opens.
The PGA Tour seemed ready for battle with LIV until last June, when commissioner Jay Monahan announced that the two tours had reached a “framework agreement” that would lead to a merger, much to the surprise of McIlroy and others who had been on the frontlines of the argument. There was a clause that prohibited one tour from raiding the other, but it was removed to keep the Justice Department from bringing down the antitrust hammer.
The deadline for ratifying the framework is Dec. 31, so Rahm’s move might energize those negotiations. The PGA Tour doesn’t have the money to take this war to a conclusion, and can’t afford to lose any more Top Ten players. And Rahm might end up with the best of both worlds, banking the LIV money and recovering his PGA Tour status. Actually he could buy both worlds if that happens.
As annoying as the PGA Tour-LIV Golf conflict has been, it isn’t nearly as frivolous as the golf ball debate.
That one is based on the proposition that players are too strong and too good at what they do, that the sluggers have turned the game into a driver-wedge competition, and that some proud old golf courses will become obsolete.
For one thing, that’s not true. Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia got the 2013 U.S. Open. It played at 6,996 yards, which made it the Mini-Cooper of major tournaments. Everyone feared that someone might shoot 25 under par. Instead, Justin Rose won at one over par. And Merion will get the Open again in 2030.
Four years later the Open came to Erin Hills in Wisconsin, which measured 7,741 yards. Brooks Koepka shot 16 under par to win that one.
People say the Old Course at St. Andrews has become an anachronism because some of its par-4s are reachable, but crank up the wind machine and it becomes an ordeal. Cameron Smith shot 20 under to win in 2022. But Jason Day shot 20 under to win the PGA at Whistling Straits in 2015, and that course stretched to 7,514 yards. Besides, the driveable par-4 is now a staple of most tournaments, as fashionable as turmeric.
It goes back to progress. Why stand in its way? McIlroy has worked his whole life, on the practice tee and in the gym, to hit 340-yard drives. It’s not just the equipment or the ball. If it was, McIlroy would be hitting first out of the fairway. He isn’t. He earned this.
Golf is the only sport that throws up such barricades. The nets aren’t higher in tennis because Novak Djokovic is so fast and good. Bases are still separated by 90 feet. Even with the commonplace 7-footer, basketball has kept its goals 10 feet high.
And when Mickelson shot 65 in the final round of the 2016 Open Championship and Henrik Stenson shot 63 to beat him — and when runnerup Mickelson finished 11 shots ahead of third-place finisher J.B. Holmes — nobody left Troon lamenting their brilliance.
But if the authorities want to apply the brakes in the majors, thereby preventing the perceived need to buy more land and lengthen the courses, we can accept that. The problem is that the everyday player will now be stuck with the slower ball, too.
The concept of “bifurcation,” in which the pros have their ball and the rest of us have ours, did not catch on. The golf ball companies think the average player really wants to buy the illusion that he’s playing the same stuff McIlroy is. But when the rollback arrives, your 200-yard drive will now go 190 to 195 yards. That might not seem like much. It certainly doesn’t seem like fun. Especially since golf was one of the few industries, along with masks, that profited from Covid-19. Before 2020 there was deep concern over the erosion of golf, thanks to economic pressures. But golf participation in the U.S. rose 17 percent in 2020-22, compared to 2017-19.
Fortunately we don’t have to worry about the rollback for a few years. By then, new crises will be confronting us all. Well, maybe not you, Jon.