Jon Rahm and the Saudi Golf League: "Money is great, but will my life change if I get 400 million?"
Jon Rahm with Phil Mickelson during a US Open training session on Tuesday in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Jon Rahm with Phil Mickelson during a US Open training session on Tuesday in Brookline, Massachusetts.ROSS KINNAIRD (AFP)

They are two sides facing each other. The war in world golf is staged for the first time with the soldiers of both armies looking into each other’s eyes. It happens at the Brookline Country Club in Boston, home of the US Open that begins this Thursday. On one side of the trenches, the rebels who have stood up the American circuit to swear love to LIV Golf, the eight-tournament Saudi league that has turned the sport upside down with its unlimited checkbook: 4.75 million won last Saturday South African Charl Schwartzel, number 126 in the world, for leading the individual and team classification at the opening event in London. Whichever way you look at it, there is no comparison: for three days of play, 54 holes, it is more than what he himself earned in the last four years combined on the PGA Tour, more than Jon Rahm, number two, has earned world, throughout this season, and more than double what the winner of the third major of the course will score this Sunday (2.2 million).

The petrodollar snake has charmed Dustin Johnson, Sergio García, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed… They all line up for this US Open despite being fired from the American circuit. The big four are organized by different organizations that have not yet made a move. In the other corner of the ring, the faithful to the PGA Tour, the heavyweights: Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa… In Brookline, more than just a great is at stake.

“Yes, the money is great, but will my lifestyle change if I get $400 million? No, it will not change one bit, ”said Jon Rahm, a bastion, on Tuesday. The Basque is not only one of the allies of Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, the man who fights against the briefcase of Greg Norman, today CEO of LIV Golf. Rahm is also the champion, the defending US Open conquered last year at Torrey Pines, his first major. “The PGA has done an incredible job of giving us the best platform. I see the appeal, put mildly, that other people see in the LIV Golf. To be honest, part of the format doesn’t appeal to me. A three day tournament is not a golf tournament, there is no court. It’s that simple. I want to play against the best in the world in a format that is hundreds of years old. And then only talk about money. When I hear the stories of Seve and the greats of the past, or when Jack Nicklaus talks about the US Open, that’s more than just money, it’s being a champion with history behind it,” Rahm continued from the lectern.

The speech of the number two in the world was forceful. Clear and direct. “I could retire right now with what I’ve won ($33 million in prize money on the American circuit alone) and live a very happy life and never play golf again. I have never played for money, I play for the love of sport and I want to play against the best. I’ve always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has it. Winning the Memorial, at Bay Hill or Torrey Pines, has meaning. That’s why my heart goes out to the PGA Tour. For many people, three or four years in the Saudi league is worth retirement. It’s a nice tradeoff to then cruise off into the sunset. If that’s what they want, that’s fine. Hundreds of millions is a fucking reason. Most of the population would leave.”

Only one shadow worried Rahm before an uncertain future: knowing what will happen to the Ryder once the American stars who have changed jerseys will not be able to participate, and waiting for what happens with the Europeans. “Are those who left going to be able to play? I just hope that Ryder doesn’t suffer and we don’t lose its essence. It is one of my biggest concerns. It’s the biggest draw in golf, a tournament we play for free and one of our favorite weeks win or lose. That says a lot about the game and where I would like it to be.”

The spotlights point to Rahm, who on Monday shared a training round with Rory McIlroy, a masterpiece of the American circuit, and this Tuesday with Phil Mickelson, one of the escapees, his godfather in the amateur years. The poster of the Basque next to the Northern Irishman was a great publicity for the American circuit. Rahm, 27 years old, has seven victories on the PGA Tour. McIlroy, 33, raised his tally to 21 last Sunday with his win at the Canadian Open, oddly one more than Greg Norman. His game has been regaining its shine and today he is the betting favorite despite eight years without trying a big one (his account stopped at four) and a weighty voice. “The PGA Tour was created by people like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. I hate to see how that hard work from other players can come to nothing,” he said.

The words of the stars weigh, but for now the millions of the Saudi fund weigh more. The PGA Tour needs stronger facts than the expulsion of the insurgents from the ranks. You need allies if you don’t want to lose the war. LIV Golf is recruiting pieces, and increasingly important, with a hard hit from the checkbook. In the melee, the millionaire is ahead. Neutralizing that bomb will only be possible if the European circuit joins the sanctions, does not let the rebels score points in their tournaments and closes the door of the Ryder. And, above all, if the big ones take matters into their own hands. That trick is the one that can decide the winner.

Phil Mickelson on target after letter from 9/11 families

From hero to villain. No one like Phil Mickelson symbolizes the plot twist in this movie. One of the most beloved golfers by the American fans is considered a traitor because of his alliance with the Saudi league. After four months away from the American circuit after verbalizing his support for the groundbreaking project, Mickelson returned to play last week, in London, and now steps on the US Open in the midst of a very tense environment. The press conference he faced before the tournament looked like a trial.

“I respect what the fans do, whether they support me or not. I understand your emotions and your feelings about my decision,” Mickelson said. The matter has entered politics. The 9/11 family association sent him a letter recriminating him for signing him to the Saudi side, accusing him of doing business with the enemy of the country and alluding to the figure of Osama Bin Laden. “I have a deep empathy for those who lost their loved ones,” the player defended himself over and over again, also questioned about the reaction of the other golfers and about the reception he expects from a hot fan like that of Boston. “We have shared a lot with the players. I respect if you don’t agree, but I think I’ve made the right decision at this point. I have been a part of the PGA Tour for over 30 years [era miembro vitalicio gracias a sus éxitos] And I’ve tried to give them everything I am now excited about what LIV Golf is all about,” he commented.

Mickelson has won six majors and last year at 51 became the oldest Grand Slam winner with his PGA crown. However, he has always slipped the US Open, six times second. When this Thursday the 30th edition that he disputes starts, he will celebrate at the same time the 52nd birthday of him turned into a villain.

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