With all the talent in the world but a proclivity for partying hard, Johnson spiraled out of control. But he had someone much wiser and more experienced in his corner. Though Johnson liked to have fun off the course, he overcame his vices for a more meaningful and productive life.
Here’s how Dustin Johnson climbed back to the top of the golfing world.
Dustin Johnson’s early career struggles
Throughout his career, Dustin Johnson had substance abuse issues. He failed multiple PGA Tour drug tests, testing positive for marijuana and cocaine at various points throughout his career. After a third failed test, the Tour suspended him, and Johnson took a break.
Certainly, there have been worse scandals in PGA history, but this wasn’t a moment Johnson was proud of.
Johnson’s decision to step away from his vices
In a Sports Illustrated piece about Dustin Johnson, the magazine chronicled his tumultuous 2015. Though he’d had a hard time with his vices throughout much of his early career, 2015 marked the point when the wheels seemed to fall off. That was the year of Johnson’s self-imposed break from pro golf and when he chose to change his career and his life.
One thing that helped Johnson recover was guidance from his father-in-law, Wayne Gretzky. The NHL great (and father of Johnson’s wife, Paulina) is one of the most accomplished hockey players ever. He helped mentor Johnson as the golfer attempted to recover.
Gretzky’s approach was not to judge Johnson’s past but to help him preserve his future.
“Maybe he felt a little alone out there. He’d go off with certain people and groups, and you don’t understand if they’re really your friends. Now, there’s no mistaking. Paulina loves him to death. We love him and support him. We don’t judge him. No one is perfect. What is perfect is if you can do it the right way … Whether he made a few mistakes, that’s not my business. What the outcome is, that’s my business.”Wayne Gretzky, Sports Illustrated
To recover, Johnson gave up some of his favorite vices, including his preferred cocktail: Grey Goose vodka and soda with a twist of lime. He cut back drinking significantly, turning down shots at Paulina’s baby shower. On a challenge from the Great One, Johnson went a whole month without drinking. He said his drinking problem wasn’t about frequency but rather volume. “I don’t miss waking up with a hangover, and I didn’t drink very often,” he told SI. “It was just when I did, it was a little too much.”
A golfer’s triumph
Johnson’s overhaul showed tremendous maturity. He recognized destructive habits and got the help he needed. He introduced more discipline into his personal life, something that isn’t easy for everyone. He’s a professional athlete with a virtual ton of pressure placed on his shoulders every week. The need to self-medicate can be strong, but he was able to persevere through those desires and come out on the other side even stronger.
So, does Dustin Johnson’s story have a happy ending? It may be premature to call it an ending, but it appears his lifestyle changes have paid off considerably. Johnson triumphed at this year’s Masters. To win at Augusta in any year is impressive, but to do so in the midst of a global pandemic is doubly so. Johnson should be commended for taking control of his life.