Take the Money and Run

Dustin Johnson’s Saudi dalliance proves that every player has a price

By Michael Bamberger

DUBLIN, Ohio — The old hit from yesteryear got it right and time has not aged its underlying truth one bit:

Hoo-hoo-hoo:

go on, take the money and run.

Yes, the old Steve Miller anthem. Yes, the name comes from the last four words of the refrain, the best way to sell a 45. Not that anybody listens to music on 45s anymore.

When Dustin Johnson’s down-home parents were coming up, 45s were a thing and Apple Records was a Beatles recording company. Things change, often in the name of more money. Father Time may be undefeated, but the lure of money is too.

Today in golf there is one story, and it’s not who might be the first-round leader at the Memorial. It is this: Dustin Johnson took the money, well north of $100 million, according to one published and reliable report, by James Corrigan of The Telegraph, in Great Britain. He’ll be joining the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series.

Talk about taking the money and running. For years, Johnson has worn the logo of the Royal Bank of Canada, aka, RBC. The sponsor of next week’s PGA Tour event, the RBC Canadian Open. Johnson would have been the event’s headliner. But he’s not playing in it. Because he’ll be playing in the first LIV event in London instead: three days, 54 holes, no cut.

The official word from the RBC folks is that they are “extremely disappointed.” Well, what did you expect them to say? They’re Canadian!

If you know anything about Dave Winkle, Johnson’s longtime agent and the president of Hambric Sports Management, there is no way he encouraged Johnson to make this move. He has spent 35 years developing relationships with the RBCs and the UBSs and the AT&Ts. There’s no real math there. There’s just, “Dustin’s a great guy and you’re gonna love hanging with him on the range and at the bar.”

The RBC money was in the millions, to be sure. But it wasn’t anything like $100 million. So Dustin Johnson took the money and ran. You could write a children’s book about it. Wouldn’t be long.

SEE DUSTIN RUN

Dustin Hunter Johnson is a tall man with a trim beard who plays a sport called golf. Your mother or father or custodian might “work” in an industry like hospitality or computers. But professional golfers play a sport called golf. That is their job.

Dustin Johnson is 37 years old. He is the married father of two, and he owns Jet Skis and boats and other watercraft. He likes the water. There are many photographs of him surrounded by water.

For many years, Dustin liked to play most of his golf in the United States in a league called the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour made him rich and famous, and Dustin liked being rich and famous. Well, rich anyway. He has won 24 PGA Tour events and amassed almost $75 million.

In the fall of 2020, he won an old, prestigious golf tournament called the Masters, not far from where he grew up, in Columbia, S.C. He was happy! And so was his then-fiancé and his agent! Also, Dustin’s brother, who worked for him carrying his older brother’s golf bag on the course and across parking lots.

You might find this interesting. All the big golf tournaments let golfers borrow cars. Sometimes the cars are returned at private airports with hamburger wrappers and other detritus in the back seats. (Detritus can be your word of the day. Someday you may see it on the SAT!) Fortunately, there are other people who clean the vehicles when they are returned. Very few people see those people.

Two players tied for second at the Masters tournament when Dustin won. One was from South Korea and the other was from Australia. Golfers from all over the world want to play in the Masters.

But after Dustin won the Masters, his golf scores were not as good as they used to be. He stopped playing well in golf’s biggest tournaments, the ones that make a golfer rich and famous and the envy of his peer group. For you, your peer group could be the other children you play with at the playground. Envy is what you feel when Sally jumps on the monkey bars and scurries across and you cannot. If that makes you try harder, that’s good!

Then one day some very rich men in Saudi Arabia offered a large sum of money to play golf in a new league called the LIV Golf Series. No country in the world produces more oil than Saudi Arabia. The richest people in Saudi Arabia are astonishingly rich! They can buy pretty much anything they want! For instance, even after he said in February he was fully committed to the PGA Tour, these very rich Saudis recently bought the golfing services of Dustin Johnson! Because he was so good at golf, Dustin used to be the envy of his peer group. But do you think they envy him now? Will he make new friends as he plays in this new league? Time will tell!

Greg Norman has been saying for months that the LIV series he runs can be “additive,” that it can make the great and worthy cause of global golf bigger and better. I would say in theory that is true, but in real life that will prove not to be. In a sense, the PGA Tour has aged out of its founding principles. Nobody would call it a tour anymore, with golfing vagabonds moving from one city to the next, like a traveling carnival to entertain the citizenry and raise some money for charity. Nobody calls the Pebble Beach tournament Pebble Beach anymore. The golfers say AT&T. Fans and TV broadcasters do too. They know who pays the bills. It’s been this way since the late 1980s.

But what remained was the peer group, the envy for playing shots and getting tournament results others could not. That spirit remained.

There’s too much golf on TV now. It does, after a while, all kind of look the same, except the Grand Slam events and a few other special weeks, like the Players Championship and the Ryder Cup.

The Saudis saw an opening, not to make money or raise money for charities or to put on a show for the locals. The opportunity they saw is to look more mainstream, more like modern-day society, with golf as a prime example of leisure-class comfort.

I guess that thing that annoys me is that golf and the PGA Tour have done so much for Dustin Johnson. He can do as he pleases, of course, and he is. He’s not hurting anybody here, except the system that made him. He’s leaving more behind than he knows.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected].

14 thoughts on “Take the Money and Run”

    1. Bad amateur golfers like myself only care about a few tournaments every year. We care about the Masters, the US Open, the British Open and the Ryder Cup. We really don’t care about the Presidents Cup or the FedEx Cup.. I cannot figure out why the Saudis are throwing money away because I see no way for them to make any money on this deal unless they are going to open up the gambling Market in Asia. Foreign events are not going to be on at a time that makes it easy to watch if you’re in the United States even assuming someone wants to watch them anyway. All this means to me is that Mrs. Johnson will make more money in the divorce than she would have if he never switched over to this debacle.

  1. Curious how you square this with journalism.

    Some buddies got their starts at Sports Illustrated, and left for higher pay elsewhere. Were you annoyed because “journalism and SI have done so much for them?”

    What about when journalists ask to stay on part-time, but also to work elsewhere?

    1. Mike G.
      Come on man.
      Saudi Arabia? of Khashoggi , 9-11 fame, repeated versions of manipulating the oil market, etc.? But really, professional golf (and many golfers) drifted away from the principals of fairness ( handicap system is one great example), honesty and character that rooted people to the grand game of golf.
      Competition in sport is normal. Competition with the PGA is normal too. But the Saudi’s shoving their way in (and partnering with a known cheater like former president Trump) is at least unseemly if not gross.
      In my opinion…..

      1. C’mon Mike, the NBA and China does that ring a bell? I could go on with one example after another about a sport and their relationship with a country that has issues that turn our stomachs but I think/hope you get my point. I don’t like the idea of the LIV but support any independent contractor (PGA players for example) doing what’s best for them and their families. People leave their employers all the time. They got paid, trained and mentored yet decided to leave for greener pastures. I worked in tech for over 30 years and saw this all the time. All the best.

  2. Terry Hutchens

    Taking money from murderers and scoundrels to do what is best for my family is very strange action.

    And none of them even acknowledge that this might be an issue.

    What a world we have here.

  3. Gosh Bamberger is good. This is why I read EVERY drop of ink he spills. No one – not one…is better.

    (Here’s to hoping TFPC doesn’t go “pay to play”.)

  4. gary giannangelo

    Did he fall down a staircase again? I don’t think Dennis even has any fans and most of the golf world could care if he stays or goes.

  5. Do morality and ethics exist in DJ/Phil world? I would have thought already having more money than most people ever dream of might help them avoid falling into the Saudi cesspool. I guess there’s no such thing thing as “enough money.” I never thought Elon Musk was a good person but with Phil and DJ I could at least maintain a pleasant delusion. Not any more. The real person stands revealed in a way we usually don’t have an opportunity to see in the sports world. Revolting.

  6. Timothy Rethlake

    MB,
    Believe you should cut Phil, and DJ, and the rest of the defectors a little slack.
    Inflation is real man, and it’s getting tougher to make the PGA tour pencil out. Those paltry purses of a few mil per tournament barely cover the cost of the Gulfstream rental.
    A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do to try and eek out a living for his family.
    As for me and my house, I’ll never invest a second watching millionaires by for blood money from billionaires. Fuck ‘em!

  7. DJ is a professional. For a professional, sport is a business. Business is about money. What LIV offers dwarfs anything the PGA Tour could ever offer DJ. What the PGA Tour has “done” for DJ, it has “done” because it was the only game in town. Now LIV can do more. DJ is doing what professionals do, and the would-be monopolists of the PGA Tour don’t like it. The hand-wringing has nothing to do with the Saudis. The author of this piece is just another media PGA Tour apologist playing the game he is paid to play for the same reason DJ is now playing the LIV tour.

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