Jon Rahm might just have killed the Ryder Cup spirit of Seve Ballesteros

Jon Rahm lifts the trophy as he celebrates with his Europe team-mates victory in the 2023 Ryder Cup
Jon Rahm savours winning this year's Ryder Cup with his Europe team-mates – but that joy has now been soured - Getty Images/Mondadori Portfolio

You can accept Jon Rahm’s crude mercenary logic in taking a cheque for £450 million ($566.4m). You can argue that anybody, so long as the money on offer is eye-wateringly enough, has a price. But what you can never do is take anything this Spaniard says seriously again.

As recently as the US Open in June, he swore blind he was impervious to the blandishments of LIV Golf. “Would my lifestyle change if I got $400 million (£318.2m)? No. It would not change one bit.”

Yes, but $500 million (£397.9m)? This, it turns out, was enough for Rahm’s protestations of loyalty to the PGA Tour to be exposed as the emptiest bombast. Six months after asserting his credentials as one of the great traditionalists, he has thrown in his lot with the defectors.

Independent contractors, as we so often hear, are at liberty to explore whatever financial avenues they choose. You just wish Rahm could have spared everybody the fake good-guy act en route.

Here was a personality who seemed to place a premium on loyalty. At this year’s Ryder Cup in Rome, he embodied the European team’s swashbuckling spirit. In the tumultuous climax to the opening day, when he struck two eagles in his final three holes to win his fourball, Rahm claimed that the spirit of Seve Ballesteros had pulled the decisive putt into the cup.

Fast-forward 10 weeks, and he has just made a decision that could mean he never plays the Ryder Cup again.

He has shown all his statements to be meaningless

This is what is so spirit-sapping about the latest LIV bounty. Rahm actively encouraged a belief that golf, for him, was about more than the greenbacks. He thumped his chest in pride at representing the European Tour. He spoke, quaintly, of his “fealty” to the PGA Tour, disdaining the LIV format as confected and uncompetitive.

And now, with one signature, he is showing all these statements to be meaningless. There is nothing quite like the raging cataract of Saudi cash to highlight the two faces of the modern golfer.

Rahm, as should be self-evident, does not need the money. He inhabits the same rarefied realm as Rory McIlroy, who lives in a vast mansion in West Palm Beach and admits to only ever using about four of its rooms. The vast prize funds at the PGA Tour’s “elevated events”, themselves a response to LIV, ensured that when Rahm won the Masters, he had earned £12 million ($15m) on course by the second week of April.

He banked £6.3 million ($7.9m) last month without lifting a finger, thanks to his third place in the Player Impact Programme. Still it was insufficient.

Doubtless we will hear from Rahm in the coming weeks that he is a simple soul whose only interest is to “grow the great game of golf”, to use Greg Norman’s tiresome mantra. The short history of LIV suggests that he will be given a PR crib-sheet from which to recite his reasons for joining, all of which skate around the one blindingly obvious factor of money.

The grotesqueness of the sums tends to be magnified by the insincerity of the players who are seduced.

There is no part of this arrangement that can be celebrated. Rahm, at 29, is acclaimed as one of golf’s most compelling talents, matching his abundance of power as a player with his expressive personality. And now he has gone to frequent a sideshow that almost nobody watches.

He is reduced to playing in a backwater

The narrative of LIV is sustained purely by the garishness of its finances and by the Saudi power play that it represents. The golf itself is a minor-league distraction yet to filter through to the mainstream.

Admittedly, LIV has a surfeit of marquee players in Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Cameron Smith. But who, beyond a devoted hardcore, is following? Norman boasted loudly about how the US TV rights had been sold to the CW network. But when the viewing figures came through for this year’s tour stop in Mayakoba, it turned out the event had been watched by just 8,000 households.

So, for all that Rahm has leapt headlong into an ocean of wealth, he is now reduced to playing in a backwater. That is quite the comedown for a figure who was never more passionate than when teeing it up at a Ryder Cup.

He felt a spiritual connection to it. He would recall how he had been inspired to take up golf by watching Ballesteros’s captaincy at Valderrama in 1997. He would say it was the honour of a lifetime to be taking over his childhood idol’s place as the European hero.

And now? It is no exaggeration to state that he might just have killed the spirit of Seve.

Ballesteros, of course, was hardly averse to the odd lavish payday. But not when it meant torching everything else he held dear. It is a Faustian pact Rahm has signed.

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