Rory McIlroy striding over the fairwayMichael Stokes/Flickr

Eight months on from his victory at the Masters, Jon Rahm has joined the list of sportsmen who have sold their soul to Saudi Arabia. Earlier this month, the current world No 3 signed a contract with the controversial and increasingly influential LIV Golf, owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi sport-washing is not something new, with their Pro League in football drawing plenty of attention earlier this year, but LIV seems to be a different beast. This is down to the fact that the money being earned by its golfers is almost incomparable to anything else in modern sport, which means the calibre of player it attracts is immense. There is no doubting the global brand of Cristiano Ronaldo and the influence his move to the Middle East has had, but at 38, the Portuguese legend’s time at the top has come to an end. Rahm, however, is in his prime, reflected by his first Masters success in April. The concern now must be that if the best players are taking a lead, others will follow, bringing the golfing world with them.

Money talks. It always has. If you offered anybody more cash for less time spent doing the same work, they would be bound to take it. And that’s exactly what LIV offers: three-day weeks instead of four and a substantial increase in income. Rahm’s career earnings to date are not to be sniffed at – he has earned £52 million in prize money from his career on the PGA tour, but this is peanuts compared to a reported fee of £450 million from LIV simply for signing on, prior to any winnings on the tour. This makes a pauper of Ronaldo, whose estimated earnings for 2023 were £108 million, including his immense off-field brand. This makes sense of Rahm’s decision, but the questionable ethics of what Saudi sport represents must make any decision to support it a difficult one.

Rahm himself had previously been a major critic of the tour, stating that he had no interest in the pay increase and played for the “love of the game”. He has also previously said that he sees no point in a pay rise, because his lifestyle “would not change one bit”. This certainly may seem the case for us mere mortals; once earnings reach the tens of millions, there is little that money cannot buy. Yet clearly, he has changed his mind. He also insisted that some punishment should be in order for players who make the switch, and this is not an unpopular opinion. Many feel those who help to ‘wash’ away Saudi’s stained human rights record should be sanctioned. But whatever the weight of Rahm’s conscience, it does not compare with that of Saudi gold. And with other world-class players already a part of LIV, such as fellow 2023 major-winner Brooks Koepka, the scales seem to be tilting very much in that direction.


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This may be an understatement. Despite once being in loud opposition to the rival tour, the PGA is currently in talks over a merger with LIV. Not that sanctions were ever particularly strong (LIV players were always able to compete in the major championships), but it now seems as though an unconditional surrender is only a matter of time. For the US team, LIV players were also eligible for the Ryder Cup earlier this year, with Koepka getting the call up. Team Europe seemed to put their foot down, however, by declaring they would not select players from the rival tour. Yet with Rahm’s move, this may all change. European golf legend Rory McIlroy who had been one of the loudest voices against the Saudi-driven enemy insisted: “Jon is going to be in Bethpage in 2025 [the next Ryder Cup]. Because of this decision, the European Tour is going to have to rewrite the rules for Ryder Cup eligibility. Absolutely. There’s no question about that. I certainly want Jon on the next Ryder Cup team.” Earlier this week he also stated that he would be prepared to play in a LIV-backed event if it were more like cricket’s IPL despite his previous comment that “if LIV golf was the last place to play golf on earth”, he would quit the sport.

Does this U-turn indicate the approach of the end of golf as we know it? We have already seen inroads into football and a shift in the majority of major-money boxing from Vegas to Saudi. If even the likes of McIlroy are forced to give in to the financial might of LIV and all that comes with it, is it only a matter of time before such enterprises dominate the focus of the sporting world?