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Why Dustin Johnson Taking Saudi Money for LIV Golf Could Spell Trouble for PGA TOUR

Why Dustin Johnson Taking Saudi Money for LIV Golf Could Spell Trouble for PGA TOUR article feature image
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Photo by Maddie Meyer/PGA of America/PGA of America via Getty Images. Pictured: Dustin Johnson

It’s easy to say be loyal to those who brought you your riches.

It’s a bit harder when you see the money that the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series is offering.

Before you evaluate what Greg Norman has fronted, what Phil Mickelson has sacrificed by his words alone and what Dustin Johnson is willing to potentially let go, you have to understand the delta in the opportunity.

Never before in U.S. sports history has a rival league offered this much of a difference in money.

The closest we’ve ever seen, at least here in America, was the NFL vs. the USFL from 1983-1985.

That’s when the USFL made the push and won for prospects like Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie and Steve Young.

But the money was close.

Steve Young made a little bit more than three times the money in his two years in the USFL versus what he would have made in the NFL ($4.8 million vs $1.5 million).

Doug Flutie made a little bit more than two times the money in his one year in the USFL ($1.4 million versus what he could have made as a top pick rookie in 1985).

Now consider what LIV Golf is offering versus the PGA TOUR.

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Dustin Johnson reportedly got paid a $125 million guarantee to make the decision.

Since 2007, Dustin Johnson has won $89 million on the PGA TOUR, including the FedEx Cup money he won in 2020. That’s by winning 24 events and finishing in the top 10 in a ridiculous 37 percent of tournaments in which he has played.

In order for Johnson just to get to an additional $125 million, assuming PGA TOUR  purses go up, he’d likely have to do just as well over the next 10 years of his career as he did for the first 15. The odds of that happening, starting at 37 years old? Not great.

It’s not clear exactly how long Johnson has to be with the Saudi Golf League to get that money, but it doesn’t end there.

That’s just a guarantee.

There’s also the prize money. There’s $255 million on the line for the first eight events, four of which are to be played in the U.S.

Not only is the field for the first LIV Golf tournament less than a third of the size of a normal PGA TOUR tournament, it’s 18 holes shorter and the prize money is four times as big.

Johnson received $2.07 million for winning the 2020 Masters. If he wins the inaugural invitational from June 9-11 at the Centurion Club in London, he’ll take home $4 million.

The PGA TOUR is in the hardest place any sports organization has ever been in.

There is a new rival that plays the exact same game. That can steal its players. That, unlike the USFL, won’t run out of money any time soon. It is backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which has total estimated assets of more than $600 billion. Even if the PGA TOUR has the legal standing to ban Dustin Johnson and others from tournaments, the money is so disparate that it doesn’t really matter.

The only hope is to wage a campaign that all money is not equal. That where the money comes from might also be green, but it is handed out by people from a land who don’t value freedom of speech and equality of many kinds and participate in deplorable acts of human rights violations.

Just admitting that — while having one step into the LIV Golf series — put Phil Mickelson on ice.

Dustin Johnson obviously doesn’t care about sponsor money — he lost RBC on Wednesday — but does he care about how people feel about him?

If not, and if the PGA TOUR isn’t willing to share him, they are fighting a losing battle.

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