With a 2013 victory at Kapalua, a new high-profile love interest and a game shaping into form through March, Dustin Johnson needs only one more thing to be ready for the Masters Tournament.
Stay away from personal watercraft.
On the weekend before the 2012 Masters, Johnson tweaked his back lifting a water scooter, according to his agents. He made the call to Augusta on Monday to withdraw from the tournament and ended up sitting out two months.
“That is my favorite tournament to play,” Johnson said. “I’m really excited about playing this year. It was definitely tough not being able to go last year.”
Johnson remains one of the emerging stars in golf, ranked in the top 25 in the world and seemingly poised to step up as one the game’s most athletic power players. His Q-rating is growing even more off the course as he’s been prominently dating Paulina Gretzky, the daughter of hockey’s Great One, Wayne, who partnered with Johnson in this year’s pro-am at Pebble Beach.
Johnson wouldn’t make any promises about whether there would be a Gretzky wearing his caddie jumpsuit at the Par-3 Contest.
“I think we’re going to try to get up and play it sometime,” he said of Augusta and Gretzky. “He’s a good dude.”
With seven tour victories in six consecutive seasons and annual spots on American international teams, the only thing missing from Johnson’s résumé is a major crown. He’s come close – sometimes painfully so – in the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA, but it’s the Masters that has always been considered his most likely opportunity to win.
Despite a long game perfectly suited for Augusta National, Johnson’s Masters record isn’t what he’s expected. He’s made the cut all three times he’s competed but has never sniffed the weekend hunt, with finishes of 38th, 38th and 30th.
“I’ve always played OK, just not really well there,” he said. “Hopefully, this year we can play well the whole time and try to get in contention. I’ve just played mediocre. Not bad. Not good.
“Just still figuring it out. It’s getting better. The more you play it the more comfortable you get. It’s never going to get easy, but the more you play a golf course, even if you’re not playing well, you can get around it. You’re not going to play four good rounds of golf. You need to play three good ones, and the one you don’t play so well, you’ve still got to score well. I think I’ll get there. Sometimes it just takes a little time.”
Johnson planned to take an early scouting trip to Augusta and start his on-site preparations the weekend before. It’s a strategy that has worked well for him already this season at Kapalua, where his advance work helped him leave with a convincing 54-hole victory in the weather-shortened event.
That kickoff win didn’t launch Johnson’s year quite as he’d hoped.
He had to withdraw from the next week’s tournament with the flu, then struggled with a case of “the lefts” with every club in his bag through the West Coast swing, where he typically thrives. He missed cuts at Pebble Beach (where he’s won twice) and Riviera.
His frustration turned around as soon as he returned to Florida and starting retuning his swing with coach Claude Harmon III.
“I’m starting to hit it a little better, drive it a little better, and the short game’s getting better,” Johnson said. “Just been struggling off the tee. Didn’t matter if I was hitting anything from a 3-iron to a driver, it just wasn’t going in the fairway. The misses were so bad. That’s a big key for me. If I can drive it in the fairway, I’m going to play well every time.
“My tendency is to go left … and that’s just a recipe for disaster.”