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  • Alistair Tait

Cash must be king for Dustin Johnson

Maybe Dustin Johnson should have a wee chat with Padraig Harrington. The world number one might just change his mind about skipping the Olympic Games.

Maybe the world number one should talk to Siddikur Rahman.

Johnson has confirmed he won’t play in this year’s Olympic Games, just as he didn’t play five years ago. He joins Webb Simpson in turning his nose up at trying to win Olympic Gold, citing scheduling issues.

And so it starts. Wonder who’ll be the next big star to say no to Tokyo.

"It's right in the middle of a big stretch of golf for me,” Johnson said. “It's a long way to travel, and I think the WGC (World Golf Championship event) is the week right after it. The British is a couple weeks before.
"It's a lot of traveling at a time where it's important to feel like I'm focused playing on the PGA Tour.”

Money is obviously far more important to Dustin Johnson than an Olympic Gold medal. Maybe the reason he can’t make the trip to Tokyo is because he needs to be at home counting his huge stash of cash.

For this is the same Dustin Johnson who turned up in Saudi Arabia this year for a reported $2 million appearance fee. It was Johnson’s third time taking Saudi lucre. He’s played in all three Saudi Internationals since it began in 2019. The same Dustin Johnson began his 2019 season in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, also for a seven-figure cheque.

Seems Johnson only does “a lot of travelling” when he’s guaranteed appearance money.

Players are quite entitled to pick and choose where they play and, yes, it’s a crowded schedule, but isn’t it every year? The men’s golf tournament in this year’s Games starts 11 days after the Open Championship, and 18 days before the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Surely Johnson isn’t saying a WGC tournament is far more important than winning an Olympic gold medal? Really? There are four WGC tournaments a year, and Johnson’s already won six in his career.

Harrington was among those players to lap up every Olympic experience possible in Rio de Janeiro. He didn’t just do the usual tour pro thing of flitting back and forth between hotel and golf course. The three-time major winner went to a different sporting every night during the golf competition. He stayed an extra week and took his family to another 10 events.

The Dubliner took his place in Rio after Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell turned down the chance to represent Ireland. Harrington was only too glad to partner Seamus Power. He realised it was probably his only chance to play in the Olympic Games.

“You just don’t where you are going to be in four years’ time or eight years’ time, or whether golf will be in the Olympics in eight years’ time. So this is maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity for a lot of people.”

And Rahman? The 31-year-old Bangladeshi was a rags to riches story compared to the other stars he played alongside in Brazil. His life began in a poor neighbourhood of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. He began his working life as a caddie, earning 12 cents a round. Yet he turned up in Rio even though there was no prize money.

“Golf in Bangladesh was only for rich people. I wanted to play but couldn’t afford clubs,” he said. “So I bought this old 7-iron head for about 50 cents. I got a metal pole. I took them to a welding shop and made my club. I used it for everything – long shots, chipping, pitching, putting, bunkers, high shots, low shots. It taught me to be creative.”

Like Harrington, Rahman happily grasped his one in a life time opportunity with both hands. No wonder he was bursting with pride in Rio.

“I still remember those old days as a caddie,” he admitted. “Every time I have success, I look back to those days and think how lucky I am.
“I feel proud that one day I didn’t even have a golf club, then just one old one and now I make history by being the first Bangladeshi to qualify for the Olympics.”

Still, I’m sure Johnson will have a fantastic experience in Memphis, Tennessee, for the WGC–FedEx St Jude Invitational. He has $1.82 million reasons to turn up there. That’s the first-place cheque. He clearly needs the money more than a silly gold medal.

#JustSaying: “This is an awfully big deal. Everybody here is loving it. This is an experience that will never be able to be taken away from us, a fantastic experience.” Padraig Harrington on the 2016 Olympics


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