It has certainly been Dustin Johnson’s year. The American star put the finishing touches at Augusta National to an extraordinary season, donning the green US Masters jacket for the first time. With four top 10s in the last five editions, including second place in 2019, DJ (as he is popularly known) was able to fulfil a long-time dream at the postponed 2020 Masters (November instead of April).
He won his second major (after the 2016 US Open) in grand style, with a magnificent exhibition of pure talent that resulted in the lowest total score (20-under) in the history of the venerable Masters, initially played in 1934. Johnson finished five strokes ahead of his closest pursuers, Australian Cameron Smith and Korean Sungjae Im, with Jon Rahm (second in the world ranking) finishing seventh on 10-under.
Now with a record of 23 wins and more than one hundred top-10s on the US PGA Tour, DJ has established himself firmly at the top of the world rankings, closing the year with a clear advantage of 2.6 points over his Basque rival.
A turbulent 2020 proved to be immensely rewarding for Johnson, as he has garnered a dozen top-10s, including three victories (US Masters, Travelers Championship and The Nordest Trust), four second places and one third.
Dustin Johnson’s current life is relatively placid but his past has included such tempestuous chapters as a stolen murder gun, and reported drug and alcohol abuse. At 36 years of age, this strapping 1.93-metre golfer from Columbia (South Carolina) enjoys a privileged position atop both the world ranking and the US PGA Tour.
He is married to model Paulina Gretzky – daughter of Wayne Gretzky, considered the finest ice hockey player of all time – and is the father of two children. So, it would be fair to say that Dustin Johnson is a blissfully happy man at the moment.
Johnson is, together with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods (among others), one of the few players to have won at least once in each of his first 10 seasons on the Tour.
Nevertheless, life has not always smiled kindly on DJ. There are certain episodes that he would, if he could, surely delete from his record.
The first and arguably most scandalous occurred when he was still a teenager and almost ended up in gaol. He was reportedly coerced by a friend’s older brother into buying bullets for a stolen gun. The weapon was subsequently used in a murder and, although Johnson was pardoned, the incident left its mark.
In an interview with Golf.com in 2011, he said he had never really had any relationship with the people involved. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I sat down with myself afterward, looked in the mirror and realised, ‘This is not who I am, not what I want to be.’ I wanted to go to college. I wanted to play golf. It was an easy decision, getting back on the right path. I didn't want to throw all this good stuff away.”
He did continue on the right path… until another episode darkened his journey. PGA Tour officials tried to cover it up with some euphemistic language describing his absence from competition for six months in 2014 as a “voluntary leave of absence”, and his management team said he was undergoing “personal struggles”. In reality, according to sources, he had failed a drug test, for cocaine, following previous tests in 2009 and 2012 detecting cocaine and marijuana use.
Johnson never disclosed the reasons for his “suspension”, denied consuming cocaine and said his withdrawal from competition was related to alcohol abuse, as he dealt with stress. “I tried to get over it by drinking and partying,” he said, adding that he had referred himself to experts in an effort to learn how to handle pressure and risk situations.
If he needed any more seasoning for his already complicated existential repast, a Fox journalist wrote that it was no great secret that Johnson had enjoyed sexual affairs with the wives of two PGA Tour players, one of whom had filed for divorce as a result of the thorny matter being revealed.
Observing this disturbing situation when Johnson started going out with Paulina, her father Wayne gave him an ultimatum: improve his behaviour or end the relationship. And so far it seems as though Johnson is honouring that commitment.
Tumultuous personal life aside, the world’s top-ranked golfer is enjoying a dream existence on the fairways. Apparently, Johnson’s responsibilities as a father (his first child was born in January 2015 and his second in 2018) have put this hugely talented golfer’s life back on the right track. Time will tell if it is permanent.