Recklessness and family issues led Johnson to make a terrible decision that resulted in his arrest. The incident nearly ruined his life, but he recovered from it and turned himself around. He’s faced other issues since, but Johnson withstood his worst impulses enough to grow as a person and a player.
Dustin Johnson nearly threw his talent away as a troubled teenager
Famous controversies have shadowed Dustin Johnson since he first stepped onto a professional golf course. But his problems first arose when he was just another frustrated teenager in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Johnson discovered his passion for golf at an early age. But he never found the same level of interest in school. “I could’ve made the time and got straight A’s,” he admitted in a Sports Illustrated feature in 2015, “but I did just enough to make sure I was eligible to play golf.” Asked by his middle school geography teacher to find a location on a map, Johnson snapped back: “Mrs. Kennedy, I don’t need to know where that is. When I’m on tour, I’ll get my pilot to fly my private jet to where I need to go.” An obscene retort for sure, but Johnson’s circumstances might explain his disrespectfulness toward educators.
Raised by divorced parents, Johnson knew how to work each side of the divide to get what he wanted, SI reported. Such an upbringing might not be the best for shaping a young person’s decision-making. When Johnson was 16, he was involved in the burglary of a handgun used in a murder. Though he wasn’t directly accused of using the gun at any point, he admitted to using a fake ID to buy ammunition for the firearm. Johnson testified against his friends, paid restitution for his crime, and earned a full pardon.
“I sat down with myself afterward, looked in the mirror, and realized, ‘This is not who I am, not what I want to be,” he told the Golf Channel. “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.”
A good word from his grandmother got him into Coastal Carolina’s golf program via Midlands Technical College. By way of some good luck and undeniable talent, Johnson got a shot to make his dream come true.
Other demons have dogged his PGA career
Dustin Johnson’s penchant for finding trouble continued.
In 2009, his second full season on the PGA Tour, Johnson was arrested for driving under the influence. The charge was dismissed, but he pled guilty to reckless driving. In 2012, he missed three months of the PGA season with what he initially claimed was a back injury, but Johnson’s story didn’t pass the smell test for everybody. People were even more suspicious when he made the same claim in 2017, just ahead of the 81st Masters Tournament, despite the injury being reported as minor.
Johnson’s lowest low as a pro golfer came in 2014. Citing “personal struggles” in a statement, he took a leave of absence. However, it later came out that he’d walked away because of a six-month suspension from the PGA Tour after testing positive for drugs for the third time in his career.
He’s managed his issues well enough to get to the top of the sport
Johnson has been through a lot — and put himself through even more — but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming the golfer he always suspected he could be.
He’s only the third player in PGA history to win a Tour title in each of his first 13 seasons. The other two are Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Johnson has won two major championships — the 2016 U.S. Open and the 2020 Masters, which he won with shocking ease — and six World Golf Championships, a number bested only by Woods. Johnson was also named PGA Player of the Year in 2016.
For all of his flaws, Johnson’s gifts have seen him through some dark periods. He has matured to the point that his lapses are much rarer, and he’s remained in a stable marriage. Johnson’s life is an example of how progress is rarely linear and often messy, but people can succeed in their own time.