With the news of Spanish world number three Jon Rahm’s official move to LIV Golf last week, former Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn has avoided criticising the reigning Masters champion but has warned that ‘golf has let itself down’.
Bjorn, 52, is the most successful Danish golfer ever and captained the Europeans to victory over the USA in the 2018 Ryder Cup.
With rumours swirling for weeks about Rahm’s move to the Saudi-backed LIV tour, it was confirmed on December 8. LIV Golf chief Greg Norman has also warned that more top players could be making the switch soon. The 29-year-old Rahm’s deal to join LIV is said to be worth hundreds of millions of US dollars.
In an exclusive interview with IOL Sports writer Michael Sherman, Bjorn said he understood why Rahm made the move - but said the pinnacle of the game remained at the majors.
‘Everyone was surprised’
“Because of Jon’s comments in the past, I think everyone was surprised. I’m not one to stand up and shout and say ‘you said this’. I get that there’s an offer on the table. There are certain things that change. In six, eight and 12 months the mindset becomes different. He’s exempt into all the major championships for the foreseeable future,” said Bjorn.
“Most of us hope the game finds its position over the next period of time. I know Jon has a lot of good friends that are within the LIV structure. Obviously, there’s a money aspect to it. Don’t ever lose sight of that. Whatever the number is, it’s a lot of money. It is very difficult for a young man to say no to that out of principle.
“Jon Rahm has gone to LIV because that’s where the world is, like a lot of others have gone to LIV. And that’s the state of the game. The state of the game should be that the best guys go play against each other in great events all over the world. Golf is an individual sport, but that does not mean there isn’t room for team golf. The pinnacle of the game is the major championships. That’s what the game is built on. When I was a kid at the driving range, it was about the individual drive to become as successful as I could.”
Saudi Arabia has been accused of ‘sportswashing’ for its human rights abuses, and golf in particular is now a cog in the ever-growing sports portfolio of the country. LIV Golf has already signed big name players Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson Dechambeau and Louis Oosthuizen.
Without slamming LIV Golf directly, which uses a three-round format instead of the traditional four, Bjorn said old structure did not have much wrong.
“Golf has let itself down thinking that the structure we had for however many years, was not the right structure. This has shown there is a need and desire for something else. There are fans that weren’t happy with the old structure, but that doesn’t mean the old way was completely wrong either. You have to find a balance to make everything right.
"The structure is going to be there within the game, in one way or another.
“The professional game has to find a way to work together, across everything. The greatest opportunity is here to make the game global. There’s an opportunity here to do what’s right for the players, the fans, sponsors and media partners to actually bring the game together.”
LIV the right path forward?
As for the future, Bjorn hinted again that LIV Golf might not just be the right path to growing the game.
“There’s a pyramid of the game. The professional game is a very small part that sits at the top of the pyramid. Underneath that you have the amateur game, club game, driving ranges, grassroot golf etc. The professional game should be this beaming beacon of light that drags the game in the right direction.
“The people at the top are there to make money, and they should because it’s a hugely popular game. They should be very wealthy at the top, and take the game in the right direction. At the moment, the light is not shining particularly brightly at the top. Everything underneath is in a very good place. And the only thing that’s not in a great place is the professional men’s game, because the women’s side is doing very well.
“It’s the responsibility of the people at the top, to make sure the game is in a good state. It’s not under the blame of anyone specific. It’s the blame of everyone, I’m in that group. I blame myself, as much as I blame everybody else.”
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