(Editor’s note: This is Part II in a seven-part series on the life and career of reigning Masters champion Dustin Johnson. Check back to Golfweek.com each day for the next part of the story.)
As Dustin Johnson sauntered up the hill toward the 18th green on Masters Sunday last November, he turned to his brother and caddie, Austin, and asked him where he stood on the leaderboard.
“What do you mean where do you stand?”
Austin then told his older brother that he was five shots clear and just minutes away from polishing off a remarkable, record-setting romp to win the green jacket.
“I told him I could win the Masters from where he was,” Austin said. “And he did the same thing at Oakmont on the final hole on Sunday when he won the (2016) U.S. Open. That’s DJ.”
Yes, through and through, that’s DJ. As much as his video-game physical gifts separate him from most everyone on the planet, his uncanny knack for focusing on the matter at hand or escaping to another world where there is no noise and distraction is pure, enviable genius.
“I call it DJ Island,” Austin said. “I remember so many times that he’d be watching a TV show and I’m having a full-on conversation with him and then he’d just look at me and go ‘What?’ He just has this ability to check out and go to his own little island. It’s him there and no one else. He puts things in the rearview and just looks at the upcoming road. No matter what has happened.
And helpful in the world of golf.
His fleeting memory allows him to move on like no other golfer, no matter how tragic the result. And there have been many soul crushers, starting with the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where he blew a three-shot, 54-hole lead with a final-round 82. Two months later in the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, he grounded his club in a bunker he didn’t think was a bunker on the 72nd hole. The resulting two-shot penalty cost him a spot in a playoff.
In 2011, he was in contention deep into the final round of the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s before he hit a 2-iron out of bounds. In the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, he three-putted from 12 feet on the 72nd hole and finished one shot behind Jordan Spieth.
Losses like that leave scars and create demons who set up shop between the ears. But not for DJ. Without question, the losses hurt Johnson, some more than others, but they don’t remain haunting – and certainly not lasting – memories.
“I always jokingly use the phrase he was dipped in Teflon at birth,” said David Winkle, Johnson’s longtime agent. “At Chambers Bay, we get in a car to go up to the makeshift clubhouse area and it was about a minute and we get up and he gets out of the car and goes immediately to a place where kids are yelling for autographs and he signs all their stuff.
“We get in the car to leave. And it’s kind of quiet. And Dustin pulls the car over and says, ‘Guys, lighten up. It’s just golf.’ And I thought, good lord. Here we are trying to lift him up and he lifted us up. This guy is unbelievable.
“And I’ll never forget the 2011 British Open. I think he’s devastated. But he walks out of scoring and high-fives me and goes, ‘Best finish in a major, Winky.’”
But that’s the way Johnson has always been.
“Even as a kid or a junior golfer, I’ve always had the ability to get over things right away, especially with golf,” Johnson said. “I don’t know where exactly it comes from, but obviously it’s good for a golfer because there are so many things that happen, and weird things that happen, especially to me.
“At the end of the day, it’s still a game. I love the game. But there is zero I can do to change something that’s already happened. I just keep trying to push forward.”
That’s what he did in the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, which is an 18-hole migraine-level headache. Johnson, with all his immense talents, had yet to win a major, but he was well within reach of winning his first. And then chaos erupted.
On the fifth hole in the final round, Johnson had a 6-footer for par but his ball moved a hair at address. Johnson knew he didn’t cause the ball to move, the rules official agreed and no penalty was administered.
But as he walked to the 12th tee with a two-shot lead, he was met by USGA officials who told him the incident was being reviewed and he may be assessed a penalty. Thus, Johnson and others chasing the title didn’t know where everyone stood on the leaderboard because the governing body’s determination was on hold.
“I don’t think it could have happened to a better player out there. Maybe Adam Scott,” Austin Johnson said. “But Dustin just looked at me and said, ‘I guess we have to win by two,’ and ripped a drive 370 yards. Lee Westwood’s caddie, Billy Foster, had to calm me down. But Dustin just went about his business.
“I still get blown away by what he’s able to do sometimes in situations like that.”
Johnson played the last seven holes in even par, with his towering 6-iron from 191 yards to 4 feet for birdie on the 72nd hole cementing victory. The USGA decided to dock him one stroke, but it proved meaningless as he signed his corrected scorecard of 1-under 69 to finish three shots clear of Jim Furyk, Scott Piercy and Shane Lowry.
“Dustin was the class player of the day,” Foster said. “For the USGA to come out on the 12th tee and say you may or may not have a penalty, I thought was disgraceful. Respect to DJ. That’s why I bowed to him on the 18th hole.”
Paul Azinger, the victorious Ryder Cup captain in 2008 and the 1993 PGA Championship winner, was the lead analyst at the time and called Johnson’s triumph one of the greatest wins in the history of golf.
“When you consider having your gut ripped out the previous year in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and then the following year he has to deal with that ruling thing in the final round and he wins, that’s something next level,” Azinger said. “DJ has that intangible. That’s the way Tom Watson was. They put the past behind them and are always moving on. It’s extraordinary.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/03/30/2020-masters-dustin-johnson-major-champion-mental-game-island/