Just when you thought the past eight months could not get any crazier for PGA Tour golfer Dustin Johnson, the American displayed uncharacteristic focus on the back nine to win last week’s World Golg Championships Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral. Despite his undeniable surplus of natural talent, this win — his ninth — was a long shot.
Johnson, 30, entered the final round five strokes behind eventual runner-up J.B. Holmes. When Holmes faltered, it was Bubba Watson, the world’s No. 2 player, who took control. Neither of them, however, kept it together over the closing holes like Johnson did.
Although Johnson has been playing well for about a month now — a tie for fourth at Pebble Beach and a runner-up at Riviera preceded this win — the story of his recent victory begins during the week of last year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Officially, Johnson announced a six-month leave of absence from the PGA Tour, but Golf.com reported he would actually be serving a half-year suspension for a third positive drug test — this time for cocaine. The Tour does not release information regarding tests or suspensions for recreational drug use, so mum has been the word from both parties, but, among the pro golf community, the report has come to be accepted as fact.
The hiatus brought his successful 2014 season to an unexpected and grinding halt. With eight tournaments to go, he was fifth in FedEx Cup points and the world’s 16th-ranked player. For the duration of his time away, he became the PGA Tour’s answer to Bigfoot; new information regarding his daily life and golf game was as scarce as it was fascinating. Fiancee Paulina Gretzky announced that she was pregnant with the couple’s first child (their son Tatum was born last month), and her father, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, claimed to have witnessed Johnson break the course record at the world-famous Sherwood Country Club. There was also a TMZ video in which Johnson was ambushed while walking through the airport, but he said nothing meaningful.
Since returning to golf’s greatest stage, Johnson has wasted no time in showing us what has changed over the course of his absence. He did not have to get clean — it has never been reported that Johnson was a drug addict of any kind, just a shortsighted partier. Instead, his perspective and priorities have shifted. “[My son’s] kind of the only thing that’s really important, and being there for him and being a role model for him,” he told the media after Sunday’s tournament. “It kind of makes life a lot easier, I think. It definitely simplifies stuff.”
We all know that golf is a game of the mind. Tiger Woods, arguably the best to ever play the sport, is lauded for his mental toughness above all else. Johnson has reentered the top 10 of the world rankings, but more importantly, it seems that he is approaching the game with a calmer, healthier attitude. It did not appear that way at the time, but spending six months away from competitive golf might have been one of the best things to ever happen in his career.