From the magazine
Inside the mysterious world of golf 'sugar daddies' and the aspiring tour pros they support
The idea came, as many of my best do, from a co-worker. As part of a highly entertaining 2019 Golf Digest interview, Max Adler asked Joel Dahmen if there was a moment in his golf career when it all could’ve gone the other way.
From there, Dahmen launches into an improbable story about playing a practice round in the Washington State Amateur and meeting the man who changed his life. Dahmen discusses how “Uncle Bob,” as he came to know him, covered the expenses of his early years as a pro, and even paid for a medical procedure that likely saved his life.
“Without his financial backing, I would’ve never made it through the mini-tours,” Dahmen told Adler. “If I call ahead and make a tee time for that state am practice round like I’m supposed to, there’s no way I make it to the PGA Tour.”
Dahmen’s example led to a question: Was Uncle Bob a one-off case, or are there other wealthy benefactors bankrolling wannabe pros as they chase the dream? Or, put indelicately, how many golf sugar daddies are there?
Quite a few, it turns out. So long as the appeal of professional golf remains so powerfully enticing—one can argue it’s more appealing than ever, with wall-to-wall PGA Tour coverage and a $75 million FedEx Cup payout—and the expenses remain exorbitant, up-and-comers not fortunate enough to sign six-figure (or more) deals the day they turn pro are going to need cash to grubstake the journey.
So, for this month’s magazine, I took a deep-dive into this wild, wild west of one-on-one “contracts”—they’re hardly ever codified into a legally enforceable document, it seems—and stumbled upon stories so good they tell themselves: of a star from the 1960s who fell prey to a brutal arrangement that plagued him for years; of two self-proclaimed “misfits from a redneck town in Alabama; of a 31-year-old former prodigy-turned-caddie who beat Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler in match play, in the same tournament, but is still toiling on the mini-tours; and of Dahmen and “Uncle Bob” Yosaitis, who symbolize how these relationships so often blossom into much, much more than a simple investment opportunity.
For every PGA Tour pro with an equipment company on his bag and a consulting firm on his shirt, there’s a mini-tour player looking for any dollar he can find. And sometimes, as our story reveals, the money comes from unlikely sources.