‘It’s just golf’: Dustin Johnson figured out life, shrugged off major disappointments and found his way


MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina — Six years in the past, not lengthy after Dustin Johnson had accomplished one of many worst collapses in golf historical past on the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, he was behind the wheel of his courtesy automobile headed again to his rental home.

No one within the automobile — not his girlfriend, Paulina Gretzky; not his brother and caddie, Austin; not Austin’s girlfriend (and now spouse), Samantha; not longtime agent David Winkle — had stated something. They had been nonetheless in disbelief that Johnson 3-putted from 12 ft on the 72nd gap to lose by a shot to Jordan Spieth, extending Johnson’s quest for that elusive first main title.

All of a sudden, Johnson pulled the Lexus SUV over to the aspect of the highway.

“Lighten up, guys!” Johnson shouted. “It’s simply golf!”

“This was our time to be there for him and raise him up and make him understand how life goes on,” Winkle stated. “The irony is that he is the one now attempting to lighten our temper and raise us up. It simply confirmed me what a person he was and what a stand-up man he’s, and the way he does not let golf outline who he’s and that he does hold issues in perspective and strikes on.”

While Dustin and Paulina had been packing their luggage on the rental home, Winkle and Paulina’s father, NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, waited within the kitchen.

“Davey, need a beer?” Gretzky requested.

“Wayne, I’ve by no means needed a beer extra,” Winkle stated.

The males sat down on the kitchen desk, and Gretzky confessed one thing.

“In all my years of sports activities, I’ve by no means felt that form of heartache,” he stated.

A day later, Johnson was again on the golf course with Gretzky. He by no means talked about what transpired on the 18th inexperienced at Chambers Bay.

“We had been all simply so shocked by the second, however Dustin was already in his moving-on course of,” Winkle stated. “That’s simply his best reward, the flexibility to place issues behind him, be taught from them and flush away the unfavourable facet of the reminiscence.”

That capacity to shrug off disappointment has allowed him to beat so many close to misses in main championships early in his PGA Tour profession and navigate self-inflicted setbacks in his private life that threatened his potential.

Winkle as soon as prompt that his consumer was “dipped in Teflon at start.”

“He does not reside up to now,” Winkle stated. “He lives within the current and the long run. He does not spend one second of his time worrying about issues he cannot management, and issues up to now definitely fall into that class. You cannot change issues which have already occurred.”

Maybe that imposing, country-boy sturdy physique that has strutted its option to the No. 1 rating on the planet, 24 tour victories, two main titles, together with the 2020 Masters and greater than $71 million in profession earnings is already scarred over from having its coronary heart damaged so many occasions.

“I believe each elite participant is looking for what Dustin has,” stated Allen Terrell, the director of teaching on the Dustin Johnson School of Golf in Myrtle Beach. “I do not assume it has come simple for him.”

‘Get off that bag and get a membership, swing, simply hit the ball’

All that has occurred — the a number of heartbreaks at majors, the questions on whether or not he was good sufficient to be elite, the reported hassle with medication that after earned him a six-month suspension from the PGA Tour — seem to be distant reminiscences now. As the participant referred to as DJ reaches his mid-30s, he has discovered stability as a father, particular person and participant. At a time when golf does not imply as a lot to him because it as soon as did, Johnson is enjoying the most effective of his profession.

“You’ve received to have a stability, I believe,” Johnson stated. “You received to determine what works for you. It’s been loads of trial-and-error.”

Starting Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club, Johnson will try and change into solely the fourth back-to-back winner in Masters Tournament historical past and the primary since Tiger Woods in 2001 and 2002. At the pandemic-delayed Masters in November, Johnson pulled away from the sector for a 5-shot victory whereas setting the 72-hole scoring file at 20 beneath in friendlier than regular circumstances.

“You all the time would dream about successful the Masters, but it surely was only a dream,” Johnson stated. “Never actually thought it could come true, particularly not as a child. It’s fairly cool, although, when your desires do come true.”

It all began on a makeshift driving vary and golf programs in and round Columbia, South Carolina, about 75 miles northeast of Augusta National. That’s the place Dustin and Austin, who’s 3 years youthful, first dreamed of successful a inexperienced jacket — even when they most likely by no means imagined doing it collectively.

“We simply dreamed of possibly at some point going there, seeing the place, you understand?” Austin stated. “I by no means imagined him successful it and me caddying for him and setting the scoring file. I nonetheless do not assume it is hit me but and sunk in. It’s onerous to consider.”

Dustin was launched to golf when he was 6 or 7 years outdated. His father, Scott Johnson, a former all-state highschool soccer participant, had taken up the sport and wasn’t superb. So Dustin’s grandmother known as Jimmy Koosa, an teacher at Weed Hill Driving Range in close by Irmo, South Carolina, and requested him to provide her son classes.

Koosa ended up educating her younger grandson, too.

“Dustin would come and sit on the golf bag and feed the Doberman whereas I used to be giving his daddy a lesson,” Koosa stated. “So that was form of how he received began. I’d yell at him and say, ‘Get off that bag and get a membership, swing, simply hit that ball,’ and he had no drawback attempting to do this.”

What made Johnson completely different from tons of of different children Koosa has coached over time was his work ethic. Inevitably, when younger golfers attain the age of 13 or 14, their dad and mom ask Koosa the identical query: What do you assume?

“Well, this is what I’ll let you know,” Koosa says to them. “They’re doing rather well, however once they get their driver’s license, then we’ll discover out. You do not know till they get that driver’s license. If they take the automobile to the driving vary and/or the golf course, then you definitely might need one thing. If they take the automobile to the movie show or over to one among their buddies’ homes, then possibly not.”

Koosa by no means needed to fear about the place Johnson’s automobile would wind up.

“He would all the time come to Weed Hill,” Koosa stated. “He knew that was a spot the place he might follow, and a spot the place he might play. He cherished enjoying the sport and loved attempting to determine how you can get good on the sport. I’d say he just about figured it out.”

From an outdated bean area to Augusta National

Growing up, Weed Hill was Johnson’s second house. He estimates he hit a number of hundred thousand golf balls there.

“They had lights on the vary, and most nights I’d shut the lights off after I was leaving,” he stated in November.

Years earlier, Bobby Weed, then a junior at Irmo High School, persuaded his father to let him convert a patch of his household’s land right into a driving vary so he would have a spot to follow.

“I simply talked my dad out of an outdated bean area,” Weed stated. “I assume he thought it was a great way to maintain me out of hassle.”

Weed Hill Driving Range turned a household enterprise. Weed’s grandmother washed balls by hand and operated the vary when he was at school. He ultimately added a short-game follow space and a placing inexperienced.

There was additionally an 18-hole golf course, kind of, throughout the highway. What was as soon as Coldstream Country Club is now a public park.

“It was a golf course and was in good condition — barely,” Johnson stated. “The greens would roll sooner than a six [on a Stimpmeter] hardly ever.”

During main championships, most greens roll at about 13 or 14 on the Stimpmeter.

“But it was a enjoyable course to play,” he stated.

When Weed accepted an apprenticeship beneath famed golf course architect Pete Dye, he left the driving vary for others to handle. Koosa operated the power for 35 years earlier than shutting it down for good in 2015. An house complicated now sits on the land the place the reigning Masters champion first mastered the sport.

“It was an important place,” stated Weed, who now has a golf course design and building agency in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

And it was the place Johnson spent numerous weekends throughout the college 12 months and day-after-day throughout the summer time months.

“When college was in, I’d need to go in [his bedroom] thrice to wake him up,” Scott Johnson stated. “But on Saturday morning, he was in there waking me as much as go to the golf course.”

Koosa recalled taking Dustin to a junior event in North Augusta, South Carolina, when he was 12 or 13. On the primary tee, Johnson hit a screaming hook that was headed out of bounds. As they walked down the green to search out his ball, the pupil stated, “Mr. Koosa, I promise you, I will not try this once more. That will not occur anymore, I promise.”

“He believes that he is gonna hit a great shot each time, which is what it takes to be a great participant,” Koosa stated.

Former membership skilled Rick Lang acknowledged Johnson’s confidence at a younger age, too. In the summer time of 1998, they had been standing on the 18th inexperienced at Golden Hills Country Club in Lexington, South Carolina. Johnson was staring down a slick, sidehill 25-footer that he wanted to make to tie the course file of 7-under 64.

“I’m going to make it,” Johnson stated.

Yeah, proper, Lang thought to himself.

Sure sufficient, Johnson knocked his putt proper in the course of the cup to tie the file that Lang had established a few years earlier. Then, to again up his record-setting spherical, Johnson shot 64 the following day and 64 once more two days later.

He was simply 14 years outdated.

“It was very apparent he had expertise from a younger age,” Scott Johnson stated. “Every time we would go to a junior competitors and he was enjoying children his personal age, it wasn’t truthful.”

As a seventh-grader, Johnson made the varsity golf workforce at Irmo High and completed within the high 10 within the state. He missed the workforce’s banquet later that 12 months as a result of he was busy setting the course file at one other native monitor. He transferred to Dutch Fork High in Irmo following his dad and mom’ divorce within the late Nineties and led his workforce to a 27-stroke victory within the state event as a senior.

Even again then, his capacity to shrug off disappointment was evident. Lang was paired with him within the Columbia City Golf Tournament when Johnson was in highschool. On a par-3 that required a tee shot over water, Johnson got here up quick on his first two makes an attempt and carded a triple-bogey 6.

“Well, I assume I’m going to need to shoot 32 on the again,” he stated.

And then he did.

“I began telling folks he’ll be a top-10 participant on the planet as a result of I might simply see it,” Lang stated. “He might hit pictures that different folks could not hit, he had size [and] he might curve it somewhat bit each methods. He by no means thought concerning the miss. That’s one thing you possibly can’t train folks.”

After highschool, Johnson briefly thought-about skipping faculty, going straight to Q-school and enjoying professionally. His father sat him down and pulled out a PGA Tour media information. Of the highest 125 gamers on tour in 2002, Scott Johnson famous that each one however one had performed in faculty.

“I do not know of anyone that is performed or has been a longtime Tour participant that did not go to varsity and did not get that have,” Scott advised him. “You go to varsity. You get an training and also you go to tournaments and the faculty pays for it. You get that have, which is effective. I imply, I do not know how one can exchange it.”

Dustin Johnson determined to play at Coastal Carolina and used a spot 12 months to complete the educational work he wanted for admission. (He had missed two years of highschool golf due to truancy.) Right away, Terrell set floor guidelines for his star participant, together with displaying up on time for six:30 a.m. exercises and attending lessons.

“That reined him in some; for others it is what’s anticipated,” Terrell stated. “That final 12 months out of highschool and even earlier than then, it was about what he needed to do and when he needed to be there.”

Johnson ended up spending 4 years at Coastal Carolina, the place he was a two-time All-American and led his groups to 3 straight appearances within the NCAA championships, together with a fifth-place end as a senior. He performed on the 2007 Walker Cup and Palmer Cup groups after which earned his PGA Tour card at Q-school later that 12 months.

When failure comes, on and off the course

Johnson had speedy success as a professional, successful not less than one tour occasion in every of his first seven seasons, the primary participant to do it proper out of school since Woods. But that success was largely overshadowed by his unforgettable missteps in majors — a final-round 82 on the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2010; a penalty for grounding his membership in a bunker, which value him a spot in a playoff within the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits two months later; after which an out-of-bounds shot on the 14th gap of the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s the following 12 months. At the 2017 Masters, Johnson was the overwhelming favourite because the No. 1-ranked participant on the planet and winner of his earlier three PGA Tour occasions. But he slipped on wood stairs at his rental home the day earlier than the primary spherical, injuring his decrease again within the fall. He withdrew earlier than the occasion started.

“Who might actually come again from that apart from a man like him?” Terrell stated.

To his credit score, Johnson by no means made excuses and accepted blame for his gaffes in majors.

“You fail and you do not succeed or win fairly often, so that you fail or lose more often than not,” he stated. “I prefer it, as a result of it is me versus the golf course day-after-day. And if one thing occurs, I’m the one one accountable. And it is simply one thing about that that I like.”

At age 30, Johnson’s off-the-course issues practically derailed his profession. He was reportedly suspended by the PGA Tour for six months in August 2014 for failing three drug checks, together with two for cocaine, in response to a report by Golf.com. The tour refuted the report and stated he was taking a voluntary go away of absence for private points.

The similar Golf.com report alleged that Johnson’s three-month hiatus two years earlier was due to a optimistic check for leisure medication; Johnson had stated he was absent from competitors as a result of he tweaked his again whereas lifting a Jet Ski.

Nonetheless, shortly earlier than he returned to the tour in January 2015, he advised Sports Illustrated: “Over these previous 4 or 5 months I’ve actually grown up, and I’m beginning to change into the particular person I would like my children to look as much as.”

Over the previous six years, Dustin has appeared like a modified man — on and off the course. After the three-putt and 1-stroke loss at Chambers Bay, he redeemed himself on the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, successful by 3 strokes. That one, too, pressured him to shrug off one other stroke-costing mistake. He was assessed a 1-shot penalty as a result of his ball moved on the fifth inexperienced. He did not discover out concerning the penalty throughout that ultimate spherical till the twelfth tee. He shrugged it off once more and went on to win by 3 pictures over Jim Furyk, Shane Lowry and Scott Piercy. While a lot of the golf world criticized the USGA for the best way the state of affairs was dealt with — telling a participant six holes from the end that he was being penalized for one thing that had occurred seven holes earlier — Johnson appeared like the one one that wasn’t bothered.

“Sometimes you get sizzling on the market, after which typically your errors flip into one other mistake, simply since you’ve received a foul angle,” Austin Johnson stated. “His angle is so good. I believe he rebounds nicely when he makes errors. People form of take that as, you understand, he simply does not care. He simply laughs when he hits a foul shot or makes a double bogey or one thing. But that is his mentality, and it really works rather well for him.”

Winkle hopes others’ perceptions of Dustin Johnson have modified due to how he dealt with adversity whether or not he was successful or dropping. Not that Johnson cares a lot about what different folks take into consideration him.

“People had been speaking about how he dealt with that second of controversy [at Oakmont], compartmentalized it and moved on and took care of enterprise,” Winkle stated. “I’m hoping that they appear again at Chambers Bay and see how he dealt with that, they usually look again at Royal St. George’s and Whistling Straits and Pebble Beach and the way he dealt with [those].

“Hopefully, then they’re going to assume, ‘You know what? I’ve by no means seen the man get mad on the golf course. I’ve by no means seen him swear on the golf course. I’ve by no means seen him throw a membership in his bag. I’ve by no means heard him say something unhealthy about anybody else.’ Those are the issues I’ve identified perpetually, however I hope folks begin placing these items collectively and understand what a gentleman and stand-up man he is all the time been and the way he has dealt with all these conditions.”

Family time

More than anything, Johnson has discovered stability off the course. He has two sons, Tatum, 6, and River, 3, along with his longtime girlfriend Paulina.

“There’s loads of lonely time on the market,” Terrell stated. “How you fill that point can both be a detriment or a assist. Now, he has such a top quality factor in his life. If he is not enjoying golf, he is taking them fishing, taking them to tennis classes and selecting them up from college. He’s like a soccer dad.”

According to Johnson, his two sons have helped him put golf into even higher perspective.

“It’s completely different,” he stated. “Before me and Paulina had children, golf was most vital. Once you’ve gotten a toddler, your views change quite a bit. Now, my household’s most vital, and golf is subsequent, or suits in there someplace. But it doesn’t matter what form of day you’ve gotten, whether or not you win or lose, you come house and your children and Paulina, they’re there. I win, my children are actually pleased. If I do not, they’re nonetheless actually pleased.”

Having his brother on his bag has been a steadying power for him on the course, too. Austin was a reasonably good golfer as a child however largely gave up the game to concentrate on basketball. After a four-year profession on the College of Charleston, he was able to take a job in pharmaceutical gross sales earlier than his older brother known as in late 2013.

Dustin’s common caddie, Bobby Brown, was unable to work on the Perth International in Australia due to the pending start of his little one. So Dustin requested Austin to go. They’ve been collectively ever since. Some caddies criticized the transfer as a result of they did not assume Austin was certified.

“A full-time caddie may even see that as disrespect as a result of they do hone their expertise and work onerous and put within the time,” Terrell stated. “For him to go together with somebody with no expertise, I can see the place which will appear as if not appreciating a caddie’s ability set. So they will be pissed about that and communicate up about it. Who would not need that bag? Some of that’s envy.”

When Dustin received his subsequent occasion, the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai in November 2013, Austin nonetheless did not get a lot credit score. It was like being Hemingway’s editor or Bobby Flay’s sous-chef. You know, anybody might do it.

“He did not have any expertise caddying, however he performed golf as a junior and he was a great participant,” Dustin stated. “He had been across the sport sufficient to know the fundamentals, however for me, it was extra about I simply loved him being on the bag. I loved spending the time with him. You spend loads of time along with your caddie on the golf course, touring, all the time practising. So, to have the ability to take pleasure in that point was big for me. He loved it, too, and clearly, we have had loads of success.”

Together, they’ve received 17 occasions on Tour, together with the 2 majors. And whereas the Masters victory in November solidified Johnson’s rating as the most effective participant on the planet, it additionally stated quite a bit about Austin’s skills as a caddie.

“I believe one of many huge issues was that I began with him later in his profession,” Austin stated. “Had we began his rookie 12 months, I believe we’d’ve butted heads much more, or had an inclination to argue somewhat bit. But now that we have each matured extra, and he is had loads of expertise on the market, it form of helped deliver me alongside quite a bit.”

There was the proper alternative for a dust-up between the brothers throughout the ultimate spherical of the Masters in November. Dustin took a 4-shot lead into Sunday, the fifth time he had taken the 54-hole lead into the ultimate spherical of a significant. He had didn’t win the earlier 4 occasions.

After bogeying the fourth gap, Austin misinterpret an 8-foot putt. Back-to-back bogeys lower Dustin’s result in 1 stroke.

“I wasn’t saying a lot to him,” Austin stated. “He was extra saying stuff to me. I used to be fairly quiet from that stroll from No. 5 to No. 6 there.”

As they walked off the inexperienced, Dustin advised his brother, “Come on, we have to get it going, tighten up somewhat bit.”

On the par-3 sixth gap, Johnson knocked it to 7 ft and calmly made a birdie putt. His lead was again to three pictures. It solely grew from there.

Finally, as they approached the 18th inexperienced, Dustin requested Austin the place they stood.

“He stated that he hadn’t checked out a scoreboard your complete day,” Austin stated. “I advised him that we had a 5-shot lead.”

Dustin checked out his brother and smiled.

“I believe we are able to deal with this one,” Dustin stated.



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