How much does it cost to convince a golf star to play the Super League? 125 million dollars? Done. That is the check that the Saudi sovereign fund has extended to the American Dustin Johnson so that he can launch a hit on the American circuit, the PGA Tour, and enroll in the first LIV Golf tournament, the league that begins next week at the Centurion Golf Club of London and that challenges the organization of this sport in the world.
The Saudi Super League needed at all costs a star that would give shine to the poster. If it was American, much better, because of its symbolism in this war for power between East and West. And Dustin Johnson appeared, the perfect card to consummate the betrayal. In February, the American circuit issued a statement in which the golfer’s position was made public in a conflict that was rising in temperature: “It is time to put an end to speculation. I am fully committed to the PGA Tour.” In four months he has gone from ally to rebel. Johnson is the great figure of the imminent Super League along with Sergio García, another fugitive who, however, has never hidden his cards. Both stand out in a list of 42 participants (six to be confirmed) in which veteran golfers are mixed with players from other circuits (European and Asian) and several amateurs.
The jewel in the crown is Johnson, number 13 in the world, owner at 37 years of 24 victories on the American circuit since 2008, the last in the 2020 Augusta Masters, his second major along with the 2016 US Open. A great talent, always brave to attack the flags, Johnson was already crossing bets when he was a teenager playing with the elders. He today he is an ice golfer who does not change his gesture when he holes or when he misses. “I could never play as cold-blooded as him,” Jon Rahm defines him. Thus, he remained number one in the world for 135 weeks, the third best record in the history of the ranking, created in 1986, after the 683 weeks of Tiger Woods and the 331 of Greg Norman, the Australian who is precisely the ambassador of this Super League.
The road to the top has been a winding one for Dustin Johnson. In 2012 he was suspended after testing positive for cocaine, although the reason was not made public. He missed the Masters and said he had been in a jet ski accident — he has several boats. Two years later another positive for cocaine arrived and in this case a six-month sentence. “I will take advantage of this time to seek professional help to face certain personal difficulties. By dedicating the time and resources necessary to improve my mental health, physical well-being, and emotional stability, I am confident that I will be better prepared to reach my potential and become a stronger champion.”
From that exile emerged a renewed golfer, winner of majors and number one. His brother Austin is his caddy, and has two children with Paulina Gretzky, the daughter of a Canadian ice hockey legend. The family lives in an impressive mansion next to a jetty where their yachts await. The man seems to have it all. And yet, the feeling is that Dustin Johnson could exhibit a list of winners with many more golds, sometimes consisting of a position of honor —21 top ten in the great ones—instead of gritting their teeth toward glory. His display at the 2020 Augusta Masters, the Masters of the pandemic, drew a superb golfer who shattered the tournament’s record for shots under par. With -20, he beat the mark set by Tiger Woods in 1997 and Jordan Spieth in 2015. El Tigre dressed him in the green jacket in the silence of a field empty of public and emotions, surely the best atmosphere for a robotic athlete like Johnson. Months later he gave the fright by giving up the Tokyo Games because he did not fit the calendar. The number one’s contempt for the great Olympic event was not a good image for golf.
Nor did it matter too much to Johnson, who with his enlistment in the Super League has put aside his contest next week at the Canadian Open, organized by one of the player’s sponsors, the Canadian Royal Bank, which has broken the contract. Little does that alter a golfer who has amassed 74.2 million dollars in prize money on the American circuit, not counting advertising deals. The PGA Tour announces “disciplinary measures” against the rebellious Johnson and his Super League cronies. The punishment will not surprise you with empty pockets.
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