It was late November and Dustin Johnson was at a sporting goods store in West Palm Beach, Florida, shopping for his kids. That’s when he received an inquiry.
Was he open to adding Harold Varner III to his 4Aces GC team in exchange for Peter Uihlein?
At that point, DJ was all set to run back the same lineup that won two events last season, produced five other podium finishes, captured the top seed for the second consecutive year, and reached the final day of the Team Championship with a chance to repeat as champions. He had recently signed Uihlein to a new contract and felt his four-man team – that also includes Patrick Reed and Pat Perez – was plenty capable of getting back to the top of the LIV Golf mountain.
But Johnson also knew Varner, knew what he’s capable of, remembered the win in DC last year when HV3 was playing for Bubba Watson’s RangeGoats GC. So, he said he’d consider the move.
“Pete’s obviously a really good player,” DJ said. “Me and Harold are good friends, and he’s a great player. When you look on paper, I would say they’re fairly even-matched players. We never thought about trading. It just worked out that way.”
The trade was a key component that helped facilitate another RangeGoats move, with Talor Gooch going to Smash GC in exchange for Matthew Wolff. Uihlein is a good friend of Wolff’s, and Watson thought adding the 2010 U.S. Amateur champ would provide another level of support in hopes of maximizing Wolff’s tremendous potential.
The RangeGoats have their revamped lineup. Smash gets last year’s Individual Champion. But don’t discount the impact of the move on the 4Aces. Varner not only is a proven LIV Golf winner, but he’ll bring a different dynamic to the team with his more, er, candid personality.
“I think it's going to be very dog-eat-dog, which is good,” Varner said. “I don't know if it'll be different, but it would just be more of like a let's-play-good vibe, which is totally cool with me.”
“He’s going to be a great addition,” said Reed. “He brings more, I would say, a ‘louder’ part to our team. But at the same time, I know how hard Harold works and wants to go out and win. I feel like that’s something that’s been good for us and kind of fits our mode.”
Quite frankly, the Aces don’t mind the shakeup after a 2023 season that wasn’t as successful as the inaugural 2022 LIV Golf campaign (five wins, including the Team Championship). Don’t call it complacency, but the 4Aces know they weren’t as consistent or as dominant as expected.
“I’m pretty sure if you talked to Dustin, talked to Pat, and even talked to Pete from last year, we all underperformed as a team,” Reed said. “We didn’t play as a team how we needed to.
“I feel like last year was a fluke for our guys and our team and that the first year was kind of more of who we are. This year, we’re more determined to get back to that.”
Certainly, Johnson is determined to bounce back from a season that didn’t meet his individual expectations.
Yes, he did win a tournament (LIV Golf Tulsa), which means he’s won at least one event in 15 of his 16 full seasons as a professional. And he did finish fifth in the overall points standings – although as the defending Individual Champion, that was certainly a step back.
But Johnson wasn’t as consistent as he hopes or expects. His win was his only podium finish of the year, and he had four starts in which he failed to register a single point by finishing in the top 24.
Johnson turns 40 in June, but he insists that his golf game should be as lethal as ever.
“To be honest, looking back at it, I probably could have put in some more work,” he said. “I didn’t, and it was a choice that I made. At the end of the year, I wasn’t really thrilled with my performance.
“So, this year, I’ve been putting in a little more work. I’m going to play better. If you want to get better and you want to play well, you’ve got to put in the time.”
Few people put in more time on the range than Reed, but thus far in his two LIV Golf seasons, it hasn’t resulted in an individual victory. No doubt he’s the best player without a LIV win, having finished fourth and sixth in the points standings the first two seasons.
During the offseason, he increased his time spent in the gym while also fine-tuning a few aspects of his swing. He’s experienced what it’s like to win as a team, but he’d also like the feeling of an individual title.
“I’m sick and tired of fricking finishing inside the top 10 every week and not winning golf tournaments,” Reed said. “I’m determined to go out there and a W individually.”
Unlike a year ago, the 4Aces will not tee off at next week’s season opener in Mayakoba as the defending team champions. Bryson DeChambeau and his Crushers GC will now look to repeat. But the Aces still consider themselves as wearing the largest targets.
“We’re definitely still going to be the team to beat,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a really solid team. Harold makes us just as strong, if not strong. We’re definitely the team that everybody’s coming after.”