The rumors were swirling on Dec. 7, but no official announcement had yet been made. So, Ian Poulter decided to go straight to the source. He texted Jon Rahm.
If this is true, Poulter wrote, I’m going to cry.
Rahm was flying to New York at the time to sign his contract with LIV Golf. He wasn’t in position to share the news ahead of time, so he didn’t respond to the Majesticks GC co-captain until after making his first public appearance as LIV’s newest star, wearing a sleek LIV Golf bomber jacket during his interview on Fox News.
Poulter didn’t admit to actually shedding tears of joy when recalling that momentous day, but like all LIV Golf members, the addition of one of golf’s current greatest players is a huge boom to the league as it prepares for its second full season (and third overall since the beta-test inaugural year of 2022).
“To have him come and play, I think it is pretty awesome for the golf fan that loves LIV, and for the new golf fans that are going to continue to come into LIV,” Poulter said during LIV Golf’s media week. “It's great to have another world-class name to go with the other world-class names that are already here playing.”
The Spanish-born Rahm, a 20-time winner since turning pro in 2016, comes off a four-win 2023 campaign that included his second major championship at the Masters. His inclusion in LIV Golf certainly will make it tougher for everybody else to claim a tournament title, but the players welcome the significant uptick in competition.
That includes Brooks Koepka, who entered the final round at Augusta National with a two-shot lead before Rahm overtook him with a 3-under 69. Koepka, of course, bounced back the following month by winning the PGA Championship for his fifth major title.
“Happy to have him,” said the Smash GC captain, who won two LIV individual trophies in 2023. “He's a great player. He'll be fun to watch, fun to battle it out in a few more tournaments this year with him. Look, anytime you get a great player who comes along, you want to play against the best.”
Added another multiple major winner, 4Aces GC Captain Dustin Johnson: “Obviously it's great for LIV. It's great for all of us. Rahm’s a great player. He definitely makes the league stronger having a great player like that.”
Said major winner Bryson DeChambeau, captain of 2023 Team Champion Crushers GC: “It is so awesome to have Jon Rahm over here. I cannot wait for him to experience what we've experienced for the past couple of years. … Once he gets settled in, he's going to see how cool this product is. And not only just how cool the product is, but how good the competition is and how fiery we all are and how much we all want to win and how competitive we are. He's going to feel that competitive vibe immediately when he gets out there”
For some players, seeing Rahm this week was like having an old friend move back into town.
Said fellow Masters winner Patrick Reed, “I've always enjoyed my time with Jon. I always considered him a friend. I call him and text him a decent amount of times and we've always a pretty good relationship whenever we're out playing. And it was funny, I was always joking with him about getting back and having a chipping contest against him because I've always talked to him about chipping and stuff. Next thing you know, I went and joined LIV and we have not been able to have that chipping contest. So now that he's a part of LIV, we're going to have that chipping contest now.”
Fellow Spaniard and new Fireballs GC member David Puig, LIV’s youngest golfer at age 22, is a close friend. They both went to Arizona State (albeit several years apart) and they both live in Arizona and play at Silverleaf. They also share the same swing coach and same fitness coach. Oh, and one of Rahm’s best friends is former college roommate Alberto Sanchez, who just happens to caddie for Puig.
“We have a lot of connections,” Puig said. “I'm happy for him. But I think it's also great for all of us to have him here and I think it's going to grow the league for sure. It's something that we all want. Going to make it tougher to win, for sure. We might lose some money because of him, but overall, it's just great that he joined the league.”
For others, it’s an opportunity to create a new friendship with one of the sport’s biggest names.
Said Anirban Lahiri, a member of the reigning Team Champion Crushers GC: “I just met him and had a chat with him just now and he looks happy, he looks relaxed, he looks excited. It takes me back to a lot of the feelings I had when I moved over right around 18 months ago. And I know he's going to love being here because the experience I've had being here over the last 18 months has been nothing short of extraordinary. And I wish him and his team the best – but watch out for the Crushers.”
Many of the players were not surprised that Rahm made the move to LIV Golf. They’ve seen his passion for team competition during his three Ryder Cup appearances as well as his success at the collegiate level at Arizona State. “He's a big team guy, Ryder Cups, and you could see that,” said RangeGoats GC Captain Bubba Watson, a fellow Masters winner. “For him to come jump on board, that moves the needle.”
They’ve also appreciated his neutral stance whenever he was asked about players who had joined LIV Golf, always saying that each golfer must make the best decision for himself and his family.
Now that Rahm has transitioned to LIV Golf, some see his move as a possible way to unite the golf world in addition to raising the profile of a league that is still relatively new, with just 22 tournaments under its belt. The 2024 season opener takes place next month at LIV Golf Mayakoba, where Rahm will make his debut.
“He's acting as a unifier, as a bridge to bring both sides together,” said close friend and fellow Arizona State alum Phil Mickelson, the six-time major winner and HyFlyers GC captain. “Because you don't want to go through the next years, if you're a tournament like the majors or the Ryder Cup or anybody, without Jon Rahm. He's one of the best players in the world.”
Added DeChambeau: “It transforms everything. The perspective of numerous individuals that I have interacted with that previously did not like what was going on, they've now softened. The narrative is definitely changing in a positive manner, which is fantastic. It's what all of us players and officials and employees and people on our side have seen from day one. But it's now transitioning over to the mass public, which is great, which is what needs to happen. And people need to see, we're golfers, we're still golfing, trying to shoot the lowest score we possibly can. We're as competitive as ever.”
Smash GC’s Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champ and four-time Ryder Cupper, called the Rahm signing a “momentous” development on multiple levels.
“I think it’s really, really great timing from a LIV point of view where we felt like we came out of Miami and the momentum was there within the walls, but was it there globally? Was it there within the U.S. market? The fan base was still not really sure about what's going on and then all of a sudden you get a guy like Jon Rahm who is so globally well-respected, both as a player and as a person,” McDowell explained.
“The fact that he's been so neutral with the LIV thing the last couple of years, he's kept his eyes open, his ears open, and unfortunately, I don't think enough people have done that to where you have to be open to the opportunities that lie in front of you, open to new ideas in business and sport.
“Obviously it's a huge signing for LIV and he's been referred to as a bridge. He's potentially the bridge that's going to tie golf back together again. A player of his status and his capabilities and his mutual respect on every tour in the world, I hope that he's going to be the catalyst for change, the catalyst for bringing the sport back together. And I really believe the sport's going to be in a better place when this is all said and done.”