Make no mistake, the idea that Jon Rahm was not one of the names announced Tuesday as part of the 2024 American Express tournament, one of the four PGA Tour events he won last year, is not good news for anyone with the possible exception of Rahm’s accountant.
Defending a championship on the PGA Tour is a big deal and a golfer needs a very good excuse for not defending, maybe even a note from a doctor. But Rahm’s absence would be a little tougher to handle than a bad back or an aching wrist. This would mean Rahm has made the leap to the rival LIV Tour. Whether or not chaos ensues is anyone’s guess.
Rahm is one of the most valuable assets in professional golf, and the PGA Tour knows that. The tour might be watching that asset slip away as the tour works, perhaps feverishly, to strike a deal with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund for a brave new world of pro golf. There is a deadline of Dec. 31 to take the framework of a deal and make it solid, though just how hard and fast that deadline is isn’t known.
Tuesday, Rahm’s shadow was looming over the announcement of early commitments for The American Express. What the tournament announced was stellar, with three of the top six players in the world rankings already in the field. It would be four if Rahm was part of the equation. And names like Tom Kim and Tony Finau will be followed in the coming weeks by other major champions and star players. Rahm may be out of The American Express’ hands, but tournament officials are still working hard to present a big week of stars in January.
John Norris, senior vice president of tournament business for the tour, was on hand for the media day and said all the right things about how deep the talent is on the tour, and he’s right. Five years ago, Scottie Scheffler was just a guy on the tour. Now he’s the No. 1 player in the world. Tom Kim was 16 years old five years ago, and now he’s No. 11 in the world rankings.
It’s obvious the new world of golf will feature some kind of a PGA Tour/PIF agreement that will let LIV golfers and PGA Tour golfers play together. What that will look like remains a mystery, though Norris says a deal is closer now than at any time since the stunning June announcement of a partnership after two years of animosity and legal actions.
When will the deal be done?
“Now we are at the table having a conversation about what it looks like to be partners,” Norris said. “And as I mentioned there are other folks that are interested as well. So there could be two, three, four (investment groups). We are not sure where we are going to end up. But the goal is to unify the sport of professional golf.”
If that is the goal, and everyone knows that is the goal, the question is what has changed for Rahm. The Spanish star has been one of the more vocal critics of LIV though the years, but that might have been before the $600 million – reportedly – offer from the PIF. Is it just the money? Is it the way the PGA Tour handled the announcement last June, blindsiding most of its players? If the framework agreement brings the two tours together, what is the rush in leaving the PGA Tour now?
Whatever the answers, Rahm doesn’t look like he’ll be playing in La Quinta next month as the defending champion, trying to shoot 62 on the first day at La Quinta Country Club. Maybe he’ll be back in 2025. But who knows what 2025 will look like. The American Express executive director Pat McCabe said his purse will be at least $9 million in a few years, and American Express is secure as a sponsor through 2028, so local plans roar along for professional golf in the Coachella Valley.
Until that same kind of certainty is locked in to the PGA Tour and its members, fans rightfully will keep asking questions and wondering what their favorite sport will look like even in the next few months.
Larry Bohannan is the golf writer for The Desert Sun. You can contact him at (760) 778-4633 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Jon Rahm’s absence at American Express reinforces need for PGA Tour/PIF deal