Dustin Johnson: can golf’s universe No 1 stay out of a rough?

There is no improved embellishment for Dustin Johnson than slipping on a stairs. For all of his victories – 15 and counting on golf’s PGA Tour – a career of a lanky 33-year-old has been tangible by pratfalls. There was a mislaid spin during a final spin 82 to blow a three-shot lead in a 2010 US Open; a 72nd hole chastisement for education his bar in an obscure fort during a 2010 PGA Championship, costing him a mark in a playoff; a disagreeable cut out of finish down a widen during a 2011 Open Championship, that authorised Darren Clarke to journey to victory.

More seriously, there was a tumble from beauty that came with his six-month “leave of absence” to residence “personal challenges” that followed a revelations on Golf.com that Johnson had unsuccessful 3 drug tests, for pot and cocaine. In that time divided from a diversion Johnson reinvented himself privately and professionally, and he has been a widespread force given his lapse in early 2015.

He captivated Oakmont, a scariest march this side of Carnoustie, to take a 2016 US Open, and this winter surfaced a universe rankings. Johnson had won 3 true tournaments streamer into a US Masters, a immensely watchable foe on a sensuous Georgia march that heralds a start of open for golf fans. Johnson had determined himself as a strenuous favourite and afterwards he was tripped adult by fate’s variable finger: stuffing around a let home in hosiery on a eve of a tournament, he slipped on a wooden stairs and wrenched his back. He was forced to repel and, in a dual months since, his diversion has forlorn him, including disconnected performances during Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial contest and a US Open.

So Johnson arrives during Royal Birkdale outward Liverpool for a Open on 20 Jul during another crossroads: can he pullulate on a march that has always propitious his code of macho spin distinguished and take a subsequent step to greatness, or will his new stumbles spin into another crisis?

Private joke: Dustin Johnson with Tiger Woods, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Feb 2013. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

“Oh, I’m not going anywhere,” Johnson says in his concise drawl, that reveals his upbringing in South Carolina. “I’m usually removing started.”

This bedrock certainty is not as apparent as Johnson’s plural earthy gifts, though a self-belief is a pivotal to bargain who he is as a golfer. “There’s never been a shot Dustin doesn’t consider he can lift off,” says his brother/caddie Austin. “And he’s kind of right, given a harder a shot a some-more he concentrates and so it customarily works out, even if it’s not accurately a right play.”

Dustin’s jock strut comes from a lifetime of success on several personification fields. He was an All-Star pitcher in Little League round and a standout girl basketball player, not startling given he’s a grandson of Art Whisnant, a Hall of Fame college basketball actor who was drafted by a Los Angeles Lakers.

“I consider he is a best contestant ever to play veteran golf,” Keith Sbarbaro, bar code TaylorMade’s clamp boss of PGA Tour operations, says of a 6ft 4in, 14st 6lb Johnson. “He has a uncertain healthy talent. He can do anything. Give him a basketball, he can asperse it in unclothed feet. Give him a baseball, he can chuck it 90mph…”

Winner: Dustin Johnson, US Open, Oakmont Country Club, Pennsylvania, 19 Jun 2016. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Johnson’s father Scott – a high propagandize star in basketball, baseball, American football, soccer, lane and margin – picks adult a thread. “He can play 200 games all night long,” he says. “Don’t glow pool for income around him, either.” Austin adds: “He can rip it adult on a water. On a wakeboard he can burst a wake, easily. Last summer we saw him get 10ft of atmosphere on a Jet Ski. There was a 60ft yacht going about 30mph and it was kicking adult a arise with 6ft waves. Dustin launched off that like it was a X Games.”

Things have always come a small too easy for Johnson, to a indicate that his pitch manager Butch Harmon once lamented: “He has always relied on extensive healthy ability to lift him through. It’s taken him all a approach to being a tip 10 player. But each other male in a tip 10 outworks him.” Except when it came to partying, during that Johnson was a undisputed hall leader.

It was usually when a diversion was taken divided from him that Johnson’s arena changed. During his leave of deficiency he worked with a life manager and several clinicians, gaining hard-won self-knowledge and new mechanisms for coping with stress. For a initial time he dedicated himself to maximising his implicit gifts, signing adult for tiresome sessions each day with Joey Diovisalvi, a hyper-intense tutor who helped take Vijay Singh to series one.

Still, a pivotal doctrine competence have been that during a toughest time of his life, he had a umbrella support of his partner Paulina Gretzky, her father Wayne and a rest of their vast family. In early 2013, Johnson had begun dating a glamorous daughter of a biggest ice-hockey actor of all time, and by that summer they were engaged. In a open of 2014 they detected Paulina was pregnant. It was usually a few months after that Johnson took his leave.

“I consider for a prolonged time Dustin had been struggling with a question: ‘Who loves me and believes in me, not as a golfer though as a person?’” says Diovisalvi. “In that duration of thoughtfulness he came to learn that Paulina and her family were his sanctuary. In a hardest of times they had his back. Love became a defining thing in his life, and when you’re finally not fearful to adore back, that’s a life-changing shift.”

‘Sanctuary’: Dustin Johnson with Paulina Gretzky and their baby son Tatum during Wayne Gretzky’s home in California. Photograph: Ben Van Hook/Golf Magazine

Their baby boy, Tatum, was innate in Feb 2015. As a teen Johnson lived by a hostile divorce of his parents; fatherhood gave him a purpose that had always been missing, and Tatum became a unchanging participation on a PGA Tour, earning a jot of internet celebrity when he hilariously stole Jordan Spieth’s dabble on a use green. (Another son, River, was innate on a eve of this year’s US Open; Dustin and Paulina wish to marry this autumn, though initial wish to finish construction on a waterfront palace in Jupiter, Florida.)

All a pieces were entrance together for Johnson, though a final pull came from a male nicknamed a Great One. “I don’t know golf,” says Wayne Gretzky, an 11-handicapper, “but we know sports. There are good talents during each level. What separates a superstars is credentials and commitment. The idea that I’m some kind of guru to Dustin is overblown. He was a top-10 actor prolonged before we met him. But if I’ve helped in any approach it’s with a summary that to be a best he has to compensate a price. I’ve speedy him to set really high goals for himself. Tiger-like goals. So this year you’ve won 3 tournaments and a major. Next year make it 5 tournaments and dual majors. Don’t be fearful to be a best. Embrace it.”

Which Johnson has, all of it: a interviews, print shoots, autographs, a inspection and expectations. “He doesn’t wish to be a male who got to series one for a while,” says Diovisalvi. “He wants to be there forever.”

Driving all of this for Johnson is a clarity that he is now personification for something incomparable than himself. “You can’t get this distant by yourself,” he says. “I’m so propitious to have a people around me that we do. To have their adore and support no matter what – that means a universe to me. Do we wish to make them proud? For sure. Winning is a lot some-more fun when we have people to share it with.”

Exactly how many winning can Johnson do? That is unexpected golf’s many tantalising question. Rory McIlroy is undoubtedly a many soaring talent of this generation, though there is a flourishing faith that Johnson’s best things is of a same standard, and that, notwithstanding this stream mini-swoon, Johnson has spin a some-more unchanging force.

Eyes on a prize: Dustin Johnson (right) with his hermit and caddie Austin Johnson during a World Golf Championships, Austin Country Club, Texas, Mar 2017. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

“You know a feeling when you’re an normal golfer,” says PGA Tour leader James Hahn, “and you’re personification with a male who’s on gait to mangle a march record and each partial of his diversion is on glow and we don’t know either or not to speak to him or usually get out of his way? That’s what it feels like for any of us to play with Dustin right now. Every expostulate is hammered, each iron shot is passed during a flag, each putt looks like it’s going in. He looks like he’s going to glow a march record each time he tees it up. And not usually does a golf demeanour different, it sounds different. The manacles are so crisp. Off a motorist conduct it sounds like gunfire. You usually hear that once each decade or two. Tiger Woods when he was in his primary strike a spin like that. Rory has some of that. With Dustin it’s each swing. He’s a machine.”

Yet machines don’t evolve, as Johnson has. He has always hexed cartoonish length off a tee, though a pivotal to reaching a subsequent spin has been an importance on finesse. He used to foster a tough draw, that could spin into a crashing hook, that calls to mind Ben Hogan’s famous quote: “A offshoot is like carrying a boa-constrictor in your pocket.” During use rounds during a 2015 Tour Championship, Johnson was struggling to strike fairways. “The pull wasn’t operative so we attempted a fade,” he says, in his typically honest way. Harmon had prolonged been perplexing to remonstrate Johnson to play a fade, which, it contingency be noted, was a elite shot figure of Jack Nicklaus.

It was a revelation. Johnson’s misses were tighter, and he could let a bar go with some-more freedom. He became so enamoured with a blur that from that contest brazen it’s flattering many all he has played. The subsequent foundational impulse came 4 months after during a Tour stop in Los Angeles. Johnson’s middle crowd diversion had always been middling, an untimely law given that he leaves himself a shortest clubs into many standard 4s. On a operation during Riviera Country Club, following a Wednesday pro-am, he borrowed a TrackMan and started dialing in his crowd distances. Johnson finished fourth that week and saw a pointy boost in a correctness of his crowd play. He immediately bought his possess TrackMan and grown a accurate system: “A half shot with my 60 [degree wedge] goes 85 yards. I’ve got a three-quarter pitch that goes 95 and a batch pitch that goes 105. With my 52, my half goes 105, three-quarter 115, and so on. Now we trust a swings and we trust a numbers, so all we have to do is govern a shot.” By a season’s finish he would be fourth on debate in vicinity to a hole from 50 to 125 yards (up from 53rd in 2015).

So because did it take him so prolonged to make these improvements? “Well, we mean, that’s a tough question,” Johnson says with a laugh. To put it politely, he is not a many egghead of chaps. Yet he has done it to a tip in his possess unaccompanied way. “I theory we have to make some mistakes,” Johnson says, “before we figure out all a answers.”

Which is a nifty coda for a life and times of a unaccompanied talent. Johnson is positively fervent to reassert himself during this month’s Open Championship. Let’s usually wish that his let home is single-story.

Alan Shipnuck is a comparison author during Sports Illustrated. His articles, podcasts and video facilities can be found during golf.com/the-knockdown

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