Jon Rahm has committed to join the LIV Golf League from next season; Reigning Masters champion and Ryder Cup star is the latest player to commit to the Saudi-backed circuit, having won four times on the PGA Tour in 2023
Friday 8 December 2023 14:11, UK
Rory McIlroy fears that professional golf is in danger of ‘cannibalising itself’ and becoming less relevant within sport after Jon Rahm became the latest high-profile player to join the LIV Golf League.
Rahm ended weeks of speculation about his golfing future by confirming he would join the Saudi-backed circuit from next season, with the reigning Masters champion arguably their biggest signing to date since their launch last summer.
The Spaniard's switch comes during a turbulent period for the sport, as the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund - who bankroll LIV Golf - try and finalise the shock Framework Agreement announced on June 6 before the initial deadline of December 31.
Rahm will be part of a LIV Golf line-up that contains Brooks Koepka, Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia, with McIlroy wary of the impact that further new arrivals at LIV Golf could have on the wider sport.
"My fear is that we continue down this path where we have competing tours and it divides the eyeballs that are on the game," McIlroy exclusively told Sky Sports. "Some people like LIV, the majority of people like the PGA Tour, but if LIV start to take a few players each and every year it's really going to be divided and that's no good for anyone.
"You're basically cannibalising yourself as a sport, sort of the same as what boxing has done with all the different organisations and a few other sports have as well. To me, having all the best golfers under the one umbrella is the best way forward because I think that's really what the public wants.
"The majors are already so big, but my fear is that if we keep going down this path then all the best players are only going to get together four times a year. That means golf is only going to be relevant four times a year and that's good for no one in the game.
"We need to get everyone back together and try to forget about what has happened in the past. Let bygones be bygones and we all move forward together - I think that's what's going to be the best thing for the professional game."
Rahm has featured in Europe's last three Ryder Cup teams and was a key part of their victory in Rome earlier this year, finishing unbeaten in his four matches as Europe ran out 16.5-11.5 winners, although the switch to LIV Golf could make future appearances more challenging.
Garcia, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson were all ruled out of consideration to feature in 2023 because of joining LIV Golf, but McIlroy believes Rahm's switch could signal the need to change to Ryder Cup qualification for the next edition.
"Jon [Rahm] is going to be in Bethpage in 2025 so, because of this decision, the European Tour are going to have to rewrite the rules for Ryder Cup eligibility," McIlroy explained. "There's absolutely no question about that - I certainly want Jon Rahm on the next Ryder Cup team.
"I'm going to miss competing against him week in, week out. He has got so much talent, he's so tenacious and he's a great team-mate in the Ryder Cup. The thing that I've realised is that you can't judge someone for making a decision that they feel is the best thing for them.
"Is it disappointing to me? Yes, but the landscape of golf changed on June 6th, when the framework agreement was announced, and I think because of that it made the jump from the PGA Tour to LIV a little bit easier for guys.
"They let the first guys really take the heat and then this framework agreement legitimised basically what LIV was trying to do, then I think it's made it easier now if that's really what you want to do.
"My opinion now is and there's only one great team event in golf and that's the Ryder Cup and that's never going to change. But if the public wants some more team competition, then you know you have to cater for what the public demands."
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