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 automotive headed again to his rental home.
Nobody within the automotive — 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 mentioned something. They have been nonetheless in disbelief that Johnson 3-putted from 12 toes on the 72nd gap to lose by a shot to Jordan Spieth, extending Johnson’s quest for that elusive first main title.
Hastily, Johnson pulled the Lexus SUV over to the facet of the street.
“Loosen up, guys!” Johnson shouted. “It is simply golf!”
“This was our time to be there for him and carry him up and make him understand how life goes on,” Winkle mentioned. “The irony is that he is the one now attempting to lighten our temper and carry 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.”
Whereas Dustin and Paulina have been packing their baggage on the rental home, Winkle and Paulina’s father, NHL Corridor 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 mentioned.
The lads 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 type of heartache,” he mentioned.
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 have been all simply so shocked by the second, however Dustin was already in his moving-on course of,” Winkle mentioned. “That is simply his biggest present, the flexibility to place issues behind him, study from them and flush away the detrimental facet of the reminiscence.”
That means 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 urged that his shopper was “dipped in Teflon at delivery.”
“He does not reside up to now,” Winkle mentioned. “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’ll be able to’t change issues which have already occurred.”
Possibly that imposing, country-boy sturdy physique that has strutted its solution to the No. 1 rating on this 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 feel each elite participant is looking for what Dustin has,” mentioned Allen Terrell, the director of teaching on the Dustin Johnson Faculty of Golf in Myrtle Seashore. “I do not suppose 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 smart enough to be elite, the reported bother with medicine that when earned him a six-month suspension from the PGA Tour — seem to be distant recollections now. Because the participant referred to as DJ reaches his mid-30s, he has discovered stability as a father, individual and participant. At a time when golf does not imply as a lot to him because it as soon as did, Johnson is taking part in the most effective of his profession.
“You have to have a steadiness, I feel,” Johnson mentioned. “You bought to determine what works for you. It has been loads of trial-and-error.”
Beginning Thursday at Augusta Nationwide Golf Membership, Johnson will try to turn into solely the fourth back-to-back winner in Masters Tournament historical past and the primary since Tiger Woods in 2001 and 2002. On the pandemic-delayed Masters in November, Johnson pulled away from the field for a 5-shot victory whereas setting the 72-hole scoring report at 20 below in friendlier than regular circumstances.
“You at all times would dream about profitable the Masters, nevertheless it was only a dream,” Johnson mentioned. “By no means actually thought it might come true, particularly not as a child. It is fairly cool, although, when your desires do come true.”
It began on a makeshift driving vary and golf programs in and round Columbia, South Carolina, about 75 miles northeast of Augusta Nationwide. That is the place Dustin and Austin, who’s 3 years youthful, first dreamed of profitable a inexperienced jacket — even when they most likely by no means imagined doing it collectively.
“We simply dreamed of possibly sooner or later going there, seeing the place, you realize?” Austin mentioned. “I by no means imagined him profitable it and me caddying for him and setting the scoring report. I nonetheless do not suppose it is hit me but and sunk in. It is exhausting to consider.”
Dustin was launched to golf when he was 6 or 7 years previous. His father, Scott Johnson, a former all-state highschool soccer participant, had taken up the sport and wasn’t excellent. So Dustin’s grandmother referred to as Jimmy Koosa, an teacher at Weed Hill Driving Vary 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 mentioned. “In order that was type of how he acquired began. I might 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 try this.”
What made Johnson completely different from a whole lot 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 suppose?
“Nicely, this is what I will inform you,” Koosa says to them. “They’re doing rather well, however after they get their driver’s license, then we’ll discover out. You do not know till they get that driver’s license. In the event that they take the automotive to the driving vary and/or the golf course, then you definately might need one thing. In the event that they take the automotive to the movie show or over to one in all their buddies’ homes, then possibly not.”
Koosa by no means needed to fear about the place Johnson’s automotive would wind up.
“He would at all times come to Weed Hill,” Koosa mentioned. “He knew that was a spot the place he might observe, and a spot the place he might play. He cherished taking part in the sport and loved attempting to determine the right way to get good on the sport. I might say he just about figured it out.”
From an previous bean subject to Augusta Nationwide
Rising up, Weed Hill was Johnson’s second dwelling. He estimates he hit a number of hundred thousand golf balls there.
“They’d lights on the vary, and most nights I’d shut the lights off once I was leaving,” he mentioned in November.
Years earlier, Bobby Weed, then a junior at Irmo Excessive Faculty, 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 observe.
“I simply talked my dad out of an previous bean subject,” Weed mentioned. “I assume he thought it was a great way to maintain me out of bother.”
Weed Hill Driving Vary turned a household enterprise. Weed’s grandmother washed balls by hand and operated the vary when he was in class. He ultimately added a short-game observe space and a placing inexperienced.
There was additionally an 18-hole golf course, kind of, throughout the street. What was as soon as Coldstream Nation Membership is now a public park.
“It was a golf course and was in fine condition — barely,” Johnson mentioned. “The greens would roll quicker than a six [on a Stimpmeter] hardly ever.”
Throughout main championships, most greens roll at about 13 or 14 on the Stimpmeter.
“But it surely was a enjoyable course to play,” he mentioned.
When Weed accepted an apprenticeship below famed golf course architect Pete Dye, he left the driving vary for others to handle. Koosa operated the ability for 35 years earlier than shutting it down for good in 2015. An condominium advanced now sits on the land the place the reigning Masters champion first mastered the sport.
“It was a fantastic place,” mentioned Weed, who now has a golf course design and development agency in Ponte Vedra Seashore, Florida.
And it was the place Johnson spent numerous weekends in the course of the faculty 12 months and on daily basis in the course of the summer season months.
“When faculty was in, I might should go in [his bedroom] thrice to wake him up,” Scott Johnson mentioned. “However 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 seek out his ball, the pupil mentioned, “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 an excellent shot each time, which is what it takes to be an excellent participant,” Koosa mentioned.
Former membership skilled Rick Lang acknowledged Johnson’s confidence at a younger age, too. In the summertime of 1998, they have been standing on the 18th inexperienced at Golden Hills Nation Membership in Lexington, South Carolina. Johnson was staring down a slick, sidehill 25-footer that he wanted to make to tie the course report of 7-under 64.
“I will make it,” Johnson mentioned.
Yeah, proper, Lang thought to himself.
Certain sufficient, Johnson knocked his putt proper in the course of the cup to tie the report that Lang had established a few years earlier. Then, to again up his record-setting spherical, Johnson shot 64 the subsequent day and 64 once more two days later.
He was simply 14 years previous.
“It was very apparent he had expertise from a younger age,” Scott Johnson mentioned. “Each time we would go to a junior competitors and he was taking part in children his personal age, it wasn’t truthful.”
As a seventh-grader, Johnson made the varsity golf workforce at Irmo Excessive 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 report at one other native monitor. He transferred to Dutch Fork Excessive in Irmo following his dad and mom’ divorce within the late Nineteen Nineties and led his workforce to a 27-stroke victory within the state event as a senior.
Even again then, his means to shrug off disappointment was evident. Lang was paired with him within the Columbia Metropolis Golf Match when Johnson was in highschool. On a par-3 that required a tee shot over water, Johnson got here up brief on his first two makes an attempt and carded a triple-bogey 6.
“Nicely, I assume I will should shoot 32 on the again,” he mentioned.
After which he did.
“I began telling individuals he will be a top-10 participant on this planet as a result of I might simply see it,” Lang mentioned. “He might hit photographs that different individuals could not hit, he had size [and] he might curve it slightly bit each methods. He by no means thought in regards to the miss. That is one thing you’ll be able to’t train individuals.”
After highschool, Johnson briefly thought of skipping faculty, going straight to Q-school and taking part in 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 school and did not get that have,” Scott informed him. “You go to school. 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 niche 12 months to complete the tutorial work he wanted for admission. (He had missed two years of highschool golf due to truancy.) Straight away, Terrell set floor guidelines for his star participant, together with exhibiting up on time for six:30 a.m. exercises and attending courses.
“That reined him in some; for others it is what’s anticipated,” Terrell mentioned. “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 instant success as a professional, profitable 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. However that success was largely overshadowed by his unforgettable missteps in majors — a final-round 82 on the U.S. Open at Pebble Seashore 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 subsequent 12 months. On the 2017 Masters, Johnson was the overwhelming favourite because the No. 1-ranked participant on this planet and winner of his earlier three PGA Tour occasions. However he slipped on wooden 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 mentioned.
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 mentioned. “I prefer it, as a result of it is me versus the golf course on daily basis. And if one thing occurs, I am the one one accountable. And it is simply one thing about that that I really like.”
At age 30, Johnson’s off-the-course issues almost derailed his profession. He was reportedly suspended by the PGA Tour for six months in August 2014 for failing three drug assessments, together with two for cocaine, based on a report by Golf.com. The tour refuted the report and mentioned he was taking a voluntary go away of absence for private points.
The identical Golf.com report alleged that Johnson’s three-month hiatus two years earlier was due to a optimistic check for leisure medicine; Johnson had mentioned 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 informed Sports activities Illustrated: “Over these previous 4 or 5 months I’ve actually grown up, and I’m beginning to turn into the individual 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 at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, profitable 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 in regards to the penalty throughout that last spherical till the twelfth tee. He shrugged it off once more and went on to win by 3 photographs over Jim Furyk, Shane Lowry and Scott Piercy. Whereas a lot of the golf world criticized the USGA for the way in which 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 who wasn’t bothered.
“Generally you get sizzling on the market, after which generally your errors flip into one other mistake, simply since you’ve acquired a foul perspective,” Austin Johnson mentioned. “His perspective is so good. I feel he rebounds properly when he makes errors. Individuals type of take that as, you realize, he simply does not care. He simply laughs when he hits a foul shot or makes a double bogey or one thing. However 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 profitable or dropping. Not that Johnson cares a lot about what different individuals take into consideration him.
“Individuals have been speaking about how he dealt with that second of controversy [at Oakmont], compartmentalized it and moved on and took care of enterprise,” Winkle mentioned. “I am hoping that they give the impression of being 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 Seashore and the way he dealt with [those].
“Hopefully, then they’re going to suppose, ‘You realize 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.’ These are the issues I’ve recognized endlessly, however I hope individuals begin placing these items collectively and understand what a gentleman and stand-up man he is at all times been and the way he has dealt with all these conditions.”
Greater than anything, Johnson has discovered stability off the course. He has two sons, Tatum, 6, and River, 3, together with his longtime girlfriend Paulina.
“There’s loads of lonely time on the market,” Terrell mentioned. “The way 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 isn’t taking part in golf, he is taking them fishing, taking them to tennis classes and choosing them up from faculty. He is like a soccer dad.”
In line with Johnson, his two sons have helped him put golf into even higher perspective.
“It is completely different,” he mentioned. “Earlier than me and Paulina had children, golf was most vital. Upon getting a toddler, your views change quite a bit. Now, my household’s most vital, and golf is subsequent, or suits in there someplace. However it doesn’t matter what type of day you have got, whether or not you win or lose, you come dwelling and your children and Paulina, they’re there. I win, my children are actually glad. If I do not, they’re nonetheless actually glad.”
Having his brother on his bag has been a steadying pressure for him on the course, too. Austin was a fairly good golfer as a child however largely gave up the game to give attention to basketball. After a four-year profession on the Faculty of Charleston, he was able to take a job in pharmaceutical gross sales earlier than his older brother referred to as in late 2013.
Dustin’s common caddie, Bobby Brown, was unable to work on the Perth Worldwide in Australia due to the pending delivery of his youngster. So Dustin requested Austin to go. They have been collectively ever since. Some caddies criticized the transfer as a result of they did not suppose Austin was certified.
“A full-time caddie may even see that as disrespect as a result of they do hone their abilities and work exhausting and put within the time,” Terrell mentioned. “For him to go together with somebody with no expertise, I can see the place that will seem like not appreciating a caddie’s ability set. So they are going to be pissed about that and communicate up about it. Who would not need that bag? A few 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 realize, anybody might do it.
“He did not have any expertise caddying, however he performed golf as a junior and he was an excellent participant,” Dustin mentioned. “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, at all times practising. So, to have the ability to take pleasure in that point was large for me. He loved it, too, and clearly, we have had loads of success.”
Collectively, 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 this planet, it additionally mentioned quite a bit about Austin’s skills as a caddie.
“I feel one of many huge issues was that I began with him later in his profession,” Austin mentioned. “Had we began his rookie 12 months, I feel we would’ve butted heads much more, or had a bent to argue slightly bit. However now that we have each matured extra, and he is had loads of expertise on the market, it type of helped convey me alongside quite a bit.”
There was the right alternative for a dust-up between the brothers in the course of the last 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 serious. He had did not win the earlier 4 occasions.
After bogeying the fourth gap, Austin misinterpret an 8-foot putt. Again-to-back bogeys lower Dustin’s result in 1 stroke.
“I wasn’t saying a lot to him,” Austin mentioned. “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 informed his brother, “Come on, we have to get it going, tighten up slightly bit.”
On the par-3 sixth gap, Johnson knocked it to 7 toes and calmly made a birdie putt. His lead was again to three photographs. It solely grew from there.
Lastly, as they approached the 18th inexperienced, Dustin requested Austin the place they stood.
“He mentioned that he hadn’t checked out a scoreboard the complete day,” Austin mentioned. “I informed him that we had a 5-shot lead.”
Dustin checked out his brother and smiled.
“I feel we will deal with this one,” Dustin mentioned.