Why the Dustin Johnson news shouldn’t come as such a big surprise

Dustin Johnson of the United States smiles on the first tee during a practice round prior to the start of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 18, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Dustin Johnson will be in the field at the first LIV Golf event in London next week.

getty images

Dustin Johnson is a man of few words — at least he is in press conferences — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t learnings and insights in what he does say.

Take, for example, this quote from Johnson’s winning week at the 2020 Masters, when he was asked about his desire to chase more major titles. Johnson said he undoubtedly still had plenty of burn in him, but added, “My goal is to play for about, I don’t know, keeps getting shorter, but eight, nine, maybe 10 years, and then hang out with my kids and Paulina.”

That would be Paulina Gretzky, Johnson’s then-fiancée and now wife. If you follow either of them on social media, you know they lead a full and active life together: skiing, boating, clinking flutes at 30,000 feet, chilling at home with their two young sons, Tatum and River. And, of course, fishing, a passion Johnson inherited from his grandfather and father during his South Carolina youth.

Point is, DJ likes to live. He has other interests beyond just knocking a dimpled ball down a fairway. That’s not to say he doesn’t get a rush from competing against the world’s best golfers. Or that he’s not driven to win more majors. He is. But it does mean that he doesn’t let golf define him. And that we’re unlikely to ever see him signing scorecards at the Cologuard Classic (with the 50-plus set). And that, to a degree, anyway, Johnson, who is 37, is using the game as a means to an end: an avenue to a next stage in his life in which he can escape the grind of being on the road 20 weeks a year.

That’s why the staggering payouts offered by LIV Golf, paired with a reduced schedule, are so alluring to Johnson, who, we learned Tuesday, will be the most high-profile player in the upstart tour’s debut event in London next week (barring a late commitment from Phil Mickelson).

As recently as February, Johnson said that he was “fully committed to the PGA Tour,” which tells you that he either wasn’t being truthful or that the decision to jump ship wasn’t an easy one for him. It’s not hard to imagine the latter. After all, he has made more than $74 million in on-course earnings during his Tour career, and a few friends along the way, too. But it would appear Johnson ultimately found the promise of $25 million purses and who knows how much in additional signing bonuses too tempting to resist.

“Dustin’s been contemplating this for the past two years and decided it was in his and his family’s best interest to pursue it,” Johnson’s agent, David Winkle, said Tuesday evening in a statement, shortly after the field list for the London event was released. “He’s never had any issue with the PGA Tour and is grateful for all it’s given him, but in the end felt this was too compelling to pass up.”

So, what now? The questions are endless, and many are without answers.

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The PGA Tour has said it will suspend any players who cross party lines and enter a LIV event, but for how long, and when will those suspensions be enacted? And will entering more than one LIV contest mean additional suspensions? The Tour also has said it will consider lifetime bans for defectors. Will it actually follow through on that threat and box out one of its winningest players of the last decade and a former world No. 1? Will the four majors — run by Augusta National, the PGA of America, the USGA and R&A — align with the Tour and ban LIV participants from their fields? Would any of this even be legal?

What of Johnson’s sponsors? Johnson will not be in the field at next week’s Canadian Open. That’s notable because a company that has for years paid Johnson to wear its logo on his shirt sleeve — the Royal Bank of Canada — also happens to be the title sponsor of the Canadian Open. Same goes for another RBC-sponsored player, Graeme McDowell. On Tuesday, RBC released a statement that read, in part, “We were recently made aware that Dustin Johnson made the decision to play the LIV Golf Invitational Series opener. DJ has been a valued RBC team member since 2018. While we are extremely disappointed in his decision, we wish him well.”

On Wednesday, Sportico reported that RBC has formally severed ties with both Johnson and McDowell.

Will Johnson’s other backers follow suit? Among them: Adidas, BodyArmor, Hublot, NetJets, Perfect Practice and TaylorMade. We’ve seen it happen with other players. Mickelson lost endorsement deals after his remarks about his dealings with LIV Golf were made public. UPS recently ended its 14-year partnership with Lee Westwood, who also has been supportive of the new league and is in the field for the London event.

Questions, questions and more questions.

Johnson was asked about LIV Golf two weeks ago at the PGA Championship and said: “I think what they’re doing could potentially be good for the game of golf. I’m excited to see what happens here in a few weeks.”

“Excited meaning?” the reporter followed up.

“I’ll be watching,” Johnson said.

Playing, too, as it turns out.

Alan Bastable

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.