‘It is simply golf’: Dustin Johnson found out life, shrugged off main disappointments and located his approach

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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.

Nobody 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 have 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.

Abruptly, Johnson pulled the Lexus SUV over to the aspect of the highway.

“Loosen up, guys!” Johnson shouted. “It is simply golf!”

“This was our time to be there for him and elevate him up and make him understand how life goes on,” Winkle stated. “The irony is that he is the one now making an attempt to lighten our temper and elevate us up. It simply confirmed me what a person he was and what a stand-up man he’s, and the way he would not let golf outline who he’s and that he does maintain 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 wished a beer extra,” Winkle stated.

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 sort 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 have been all simply so surprised by the second, however Dustin was already in his moving-on course of,” Winkle stated. “That is simply his biggest reward, the flexibility to place issues behind him, be taught from them and flush away the damaging side of the reminiscence.”

That capability 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 delivery.”

“He would not stay up to now,” Winkle stated. “He lives within the current and the long run. He would 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.”

Perhaps 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 instances.

“I believe each elite participant is trying to find what Dustin has,” stated Allen Terrell, the director of teaching on the Dustin Johnson Faculty of Golf in Myrtle Seashore. “I do not suppose it has come straightforward 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 sensible sufficient to be elite, the reported bother with medicine that when earned him a six-month suspension from the PGA Tour — look like distant recollections now. Because the participant often known as DJ reaches his mid-30s, he has discovered stability as a father, particular person and participant. At a time when golf doesn’t suggest as a lot to him because it as soon as did, Johnson is taking part in the perfect of his profession.

“You have to have a stability, I believe,” Johnson stated. “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 grow to be solely the fourth back-to-back winner in Masters Event historical past and the primary since Tiger Woods in 2001 and 2002. On the pandemic-delayed Masters in November, Johnson pulled away from the sphere for a 5-shot victory whereas setting the 72-hole scoring report at 20 underneath in friendlier than regular situations.

“You all the time would dream about profitable the Masters, however it was only a dream,” Johnson stated. “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 in all probability by no means imagined doing it collectively.

“We simply dreamed of perhaps at some point going there, seeing the place, you understand?” Austin stated. “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 onerous to imagine.”

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 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 instructing 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. “In order that was sort of how he bought 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 downside making an attempt to do this.”

What made Johnson completely different from tons of of different youngsters 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?

“Properly, here is what I am going to inform you,” Koosa says to them. “They’re doing very 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 automobile to the driving vary and/or the golf course, then you definitely may need one thing. In the event that they take the automobile to the movie show or over to one in all their buddies’ homes, then perhaps 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 may observe, and a spot the place he may play. He beloved taking part in the sport and loved making an attempt to determine how you can get good on the sport. I might say he just about figured it out.”

From an outdated bean discipline to Augusta Nationwide

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

“That they had lights on the vary, and most nights I might shut the lights off after I was leaving,” he stated 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 outdated bean discipline,” Weed stated. “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 at school. He ultimately added a short-game observe space and a placing inexperienced.

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

“It was a golf course and was in good condition — barely,” Johnson stated. “The greens would roll quicker than a six [on a Stimpmeter] not often.”

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

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

When Weed accepted an apprenticeship underneath 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 residence complicated now sits on the land the place the reigning Masters champion first mastered the sport.

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

And it was the place Johnson spent numerous weekends in the course of the college 12 months and day by day in the course of the summer time months.

“When college was in, I might must go in [his bedroom] 3 times to wake him up,” Scott Johnson stated. “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 match 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 golf 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 superb shot each time, which is what it takes to be a superb participant,” Koosa stated.

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 stated.

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 outdated.

“It was very apparent he had expertise from a younger age,” Scott Johnson stated. “Each time we might go to a junior competitors and he was taking part in youngsters his personal age, it wasn’t honest.”

As a seventh-grader, Johnson made the varsity golf staff at Irmo Excessive and completed within the prime 10 within the state. He missed the staff’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 Nineties and led his staff to a 27-stroke victory within the state match as a senior.

Even again then, his capability to shrug off disappointment was evident. Lang was paired with him within the Columbia Metropolis Golf Event 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.

“Properly, I assume I will must shoot 32 on the again,” he stated.

After which he did.

“I began telling folks he’ll be a top-10 participant on the planet as a result of I may simply see it,” Lang stated. “He may hit photographs that different folks could not hit, he had size [and] he may curve it a little bit bit each methods. He by no means thought in regards to the miss. That is one thing you may’t train folks.”

After highschool, Johnson briefly thought-about skipping school, 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 every one however one had performed in school.

“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 informed him. “You go to varsity. You get an training and also you go to tournaments and the school 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.) Straight away, Terrell set floor guidelines for his star participant, together with exhibiting 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 wished to do and when he wished 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 a few 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 fast success as a professional, profitable no less than one tour occasion in every of his first seven seasons, the primary participant to do it proper out of faculty 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 price 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 the planet and winner of his earlier three PGA Tour occasions. However he slipped on picket 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 may actually come again from that moreover 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 by day. And if one thing occurs, I am the one one guilty. 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 depart of absence for private points.

The identical Golf.com report alleged that Johnson’s three-month hiatus two years earlier was due to a constructive take a look at for leisure medicine; 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 informed Sports activities Illustrated: “Over these previous 4 or 5 months I’ve actually grown up, and I’m beginning to grow to be the particular person I would like my youngsters 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, 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 bought a foul perspective,” Austin Johnson stated. “His perspective is so good. I believe he rebounds nicely when he makes errors. Individuals sort of take that as, you understand, he simply would 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 very 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 shedding. Not that Johnson cares a lot about what different folks 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 stated. “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 will suppose, ‘You understand 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 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.”

Household time

Greater than the rest, 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. “The way you fill that point can both be a detriment or a assist. Now, he has such a high quality factor in his life. If he is not taking part in golf, he is taking them fishing, taking them to tennis classes and selecting them up from college. He is like a soccer dad.”

In line with Johnson, his two sons have helped him put golf into even better perspective.

“It is completely different,” he stated. “Earlier than me and Paulina had youngsters, golf was most necessary. After getting a baby, your views change rather a lot. Now, my household’s most necessary, and golf is subsequent, or suits in there someplace. However it doesn’t matter what sort of day you’ve got, whether or not you win or lose, you come dwelling and your youngsters and Paulina, they’re there. I win, my youngsters are actually glad. If I do not, they’re nonetheless actually glad.”

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 deal with basketball. After a four-year profession on the School 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 might even see that as disrespect as a result of they do hone their abilities and work onerous and put within the time,” Terrell stated. “For him to go along with somebody with no expertise, I can see the place that will appear as if not appreciating a caddie’s ability set. So they’ll be pissed about that and communicate up about it. Who would not need that bag? A few of that’s envy.”

When Dustin gained 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 understand, anybody may do it.

“He did not have any expertise caddying, however he performed golf as a junior and he was a superb 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 together with your caddie on the golf course, touring, all the time training. So, to have the ability to take pleasure in that point was enormous for me. He loved it, too, and clearly, we have had loads of success.”

Collectively, they’ve gained 17 instances on Tour, together with the 2 majors. And whereas the Masters victory in November solidified Johnson’s rating as the perfect participant on the planet, it additionally stated rather a lot about Austin’s skills as a caddie.

“I believe one of many large 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 a bent to argue a little bit bit. However now that we have each matured extra, and he is had loads of expertise on the market, it sort of helped deliver me alongside rather a lot.”

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 didn’t win the earlier 4 instances.

After bogeying the fourth gap, Austin misinterpret an 8-foot putt. Again-to-back bogeys reduce 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 informed his brother, “Come on, we have to get it going, tighten up a little bit 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 photographs. It solely grew from there.

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

“He stated that he hadn’t checked out a scoreboard the complete day,” Austin stated. “I informed 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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