Representatives close to the PGA Tour recently cautioned that LIV Golf’s reported signing of reigning Masters champ Jon Rahm would complicate efforts toward ending the schism in pro golf, a source with knowledge of the situation told Front Office Sports.
Undeterred, LIV reportedly signed Rahm early Thursday morning and continues to target two more PGA Tour stars, the source said. Rham’s departure became official Thursday night.
“Our focus remains on the PGA Tour and unifying the game for our fans and players,” the PGA Tour said in a statement to FOS. “We can’t speak for decisions that any individual players might make but based on the momentum of the past season and strength of the PGA Tour, along with the accelerated interest from and negotiations with a number of outside investors, we are in position to make our players equity owners and further allow the TOUR to invest in our members, invest in our fans and continue to lead men’s professional golf forward.”
The Department of Justice removed the anti-poaching provision from the original framework announced in June a month later.
LIV’s resumption of luring PGA Tour players with huge contracts appears to be another indicator that the finalization of the framework agreement may not happen before the Dec. 31 deadline has mounted in recent weeks, the source said.
“Our deadline is coming up here soon, so there’s a lot of moving parts,” Tiger Woods, one of the members of the PGA Tour’s Policy Board, said last week.. “A lot of different things are happening very quickly. … We don’t have a whole lot of time.”
FOS has previously reported the pace of negotiations has frustrated LIV and its main financial backer, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. In LIV’s view, the Rahm signing is fair game since there are no restrictions to signing PGA Tour players, and it shouldn’t be seen as LIV “sabotaging” the framework negotiations, the source said.
In the original framework agreement, the anti-solicitation provision stated that “PIF, PGA Tour and DP World Tour each agrees that it will not … enter into any contract, agreement or understanding with, solicit, or recruit any players” who were currently playing on competing tours.
The DOJ — which has investigated the PGA Tour for anti-competitive practices for over a year — had discussions with those negotiating the framework to remove that provision.
The framework negotiations can be extended past the deadline by mutual agreement.
PIF committed hundreds of millions to launching LIV in 2022, much of that money aimed at PGA Tour stars to sign with the upstart league. Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, and Dustin Johnson played in the LIV’s first season, and the LIV added Cameron Smith later in 2022.
But LIV’s efforts were put on hold after the framework agreement, even in the weeks immediately after the non-poaching provision was removed. In recent weeks, rumors swirled that LIV was targeting Rahm as the PGA Tour had been talking to other investors beyond PIF.
PIF promised at least $1 billion toward the unification of the PGA Tour, LIV, and DP World Tour assets into a single commercial entity as part of the framework agreement.
PGA and LIV were unlikely to come together for the 2024 season, and another source told FOS that the signing of Rahm is seen by some within the PGA Tour as a negotiating tactic.