This week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am coincides with the Saudi International, an Asian Tour event which is notably sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the primary backer of LIV Golf. The Saudi-backed circuit has spurred a schism in the professional game, leading to hurt feelings and contentious views on both sides of the battle, yet one defector who seemingly remains in good standing with his former peers is Dustin Johnson. This week Johnson’s absence rings especially true, as Johnson is a two-time Pebble winner and boasted eight top 10s in 13 appearances.
Jordan Spieth was asked about Johnson when speaking with the media overnight at Pebble, and Spieth explained why Johnson was particularly loved at this event.
“Well, I think he had, what does he have 20, 21 or 22 wins? Yeah, he’s one of the, he’s a Hall of Fame player. Somebody who guys, people and the celebrities here really enjoyed being around,” Spieth explained. “He’s a freak athlete that plays golf. He really loved this event. Loved playing with Wayne [Gretzky]. We had a blast. I know that because we had a blast with him for, what, eight years I think we played with them. Eight or nine we played together.”
Spieth mentioned he misses a number of guys who have left for LIV, but Johnson is missed more than others because he never caused any trouble to others.
“I think DJ being maybe the first one to go over there and somebody who is not, never was really controversial over here and more so just kind of worked his butt off, it paid off, got his breakthrough at the US Open, then went and won the Masters,” Spieth said. “Just a Hall of Fame player that didn’t create controversy with any other players and played on a bunch of Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams. Represented them really well. He was a friend of mine. He is a friend of mine. I just haven’t seen him.
“But I always really enjoyed playing with him and being around him. He plays fast. Easy to play with. Fun to watch.”
Asked if he had any fond memories of Johnson at Pebble, Spieth noted the games he and celebrity partner Jake Owen would have with Johnson and his father-in-law Gretzky, and laughed when passing along the smack talk that would take place in the group.
“I was always interested in the DJ and Jake banter. It was always really fun for me. Because Jake would always just – he was more interested in asking DJ questions than me. And like DJ would kind of fire back, you know. There was some good banter between them. Certainly I miss that.
“Me and DJ wouldn’t really talk smack to each other because we were both playing in the tournament. But like it was designated – and Wayne wasn’t going to do it to me. So it was kind of a Jake and DJ back and forth within our match.”
Johnson is scheduled to compete in this week’s Saudi International, while Spieth enters Pebble as the tournament favourite.