Phebe Wahl Phebe Wahl | April 8, 2021 | People Feature
For top-ranked golfer Dustin Johnson, winning is now par for the course thanks to an unwavering focus.
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As the world’s top -ranked golfer, Dustin Johnson’s fame extends well beyond the golf course. With fiancee Paulina Gretzky (daughter of ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky) by his side, the charismatic couple makes quite the power pair. The undeniably attractive duo have successfully navigated the sand traps that come with the searing glare of the spotlight and Johnson’s rigorous training and tournament schedule—all while raising their beautiful brood of two young boys. “It absolutely helps,” Johnson says when asked if being the child of a professional athlete helps Gretzky understand his grueling schedule. “She understands what it takes to be a professional athlete and the sacrifices you have to make,” explains the 24-time PGA Tour winner. “So she is very supportive in that aspect. It is a great life we have, but it comes with a lot of travel,” Johnson says, noting that they try to make time for each other as much as they can. “With kids and travel, you don’t get a lot of alone time. It is tough as we are so busy. It is hard to find the time, but it works.”
While raw talent, a supportive family and perseverance are, no doubt, the secret sauce to Johnson’s success, it is his intense focus and ability to avoid distractions that truly sets him apart from the pack, and is likely to result in an enduring reign at the top. “Obviously, I put in the work on and off the course in the gym and with my practice routines,” he shares. “I am working on my game and consistently doing the same thing,” Johnson says when asked how he prepares for big tournaments or monumental events like defending his Masters title.
“I’m very routine in what I do every day—especially before a tournament round. I eat the same breakfast, usually an omelet and an oatmeal pancake,” he says. When asked about his diet, Johnson shares that he just completed an overhaul to assess what foods will keep him in top form. “I’ve just had bloodwork done for food allergies to see what I’m sensitive to and what I might be a little allergic to—obviously, gluten was one of them.”
Johnson’s talent has always been undeniable, but his recent winning streak is due to an evolved maturity as well. “As I get older and mature as a person, my game has also matured,” he says. The natural-born athlete finds solace at the gym and on the water. “At home, my way to get away from the game is on the boat,” he says. “Just being on the water, that is my meditation. I love deep-sea fishing, or if the weather is cooperating, we will run across to the Bahamas and spearfish.”
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For Johnson, now the father of two boys (River is 3 and Tatum is 6), fatherhood also keeps him firmly grounded in what matters most. “They definitely bring me back down to reality all the time,” he says, laughing, about his boys. “They put everything into perspective. Before I had kids, golf was most important—but aft er you have kids that completely changes. They are by far the most important thing in your life. No matter what kind of day I have at the course, when I come home and see them, I don’t even think about anything else.”
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While Johnson’s boys might not yet grasp that While Johnson’s boys might not yet grasp that their pop is the best golfer in the world, the love of the game has certainly already sparked. Video of Johnson’s youngest son River’s swing has already impressed fans on the internet. “I would love for him to play golf as it is a great way for us to spend time together,” he says. “Hopefully they love to play, but I am not going to force them to do anything. I will let them choose what they want to do. The young one always wants to go play golf.”
Johnson shares that it was around his older son Tatum’s age of 6 when he started to take golf more seriously. “I didn’t play just golf until seventh grade,” he says of his childhood spent rotating between soccer, baseball and basketball as well.
A dashingly handsome, 6-foot-4-inch Johnson was made for sponsorships. He wears his relationships with TaylorMade, Adidas and Hublot well—and spots as the face of NetJets and other luxury brands hint at what the future might hold for the athlete. Yet, when it comes to more formal affairs, Johnson admits that Gretzky is his secret weapon. “Paulina helps with my style for sure,” he says of the beauty who is clearly his ace in more ways than one. “She is way more stylish than I am.”
Johnson acknowledges that fame comes with being top of his game. “Obviously, being really good at a sport, that comes with it,” he says of his notoriety. “So I try to embrace it and enjoy it.” The road has not been easy for Johnson, who overcame past challenges ranging from a PGA Tour suspension to devastating tournament losses. But Johnson’s passion for the game itself is clearly the driving force that has allowed him to mature both personally and professionally and result in his recent winning streak. “I really love the game and love playing it and competing.”
When asked what drives his passion for the sport, the solitary aspect of golf seems to resonate most. “Ever since I was young I loved the individuality of the game and how it is you versus the golf course. You really can’t blame anyone else but yourself for anything that goes on,” he explains. “I’ve always loved that. And the fact that no matter how much you practice, you can’t master the game. It is impossible. But striving to do that is what I enjoy,” Johnson says. He shares words of wisdom from one of his coaches, Allen Terrell, as some of his best advice for life both on and off the course: “I can control myself and what I am doing, but I can’t control what anyone else is doing. I can’t control how the golf ball is bouncing or the weather—so don’t let those things bother you.”
“It’s one of those sports where it doesn’t matter whatever level you’re at—you can enjoy playing. Whether it’s me and the best player in the world or just a regular amateur who’s not very good, or just your buddies, you all can go out and play and enjoy the game together. I think that’s another cool aspect of golf,” Johnson says. “I’m probably not going to have fun playing a pickup game with the guys on the Lakers. [Golf] is just one of those sports that is so versatile and universal. And it’s outdoors, which for me is great as I love being outside.”
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Raised in Columbia, S.C., Johnson has always gravitated toward outdoor sports. “We were always outside as kids,” he shares. “We would play all kinds of sports. It was me and my brother and a bunch of kids in the neighborhood playing football, basketball, baseball, soccer. We would play everything all day, and then capture the flag when it got a little darker.” The lifelong athlete has always had a competitive streak. “I’m just super competitive in anything, I think, no matter what sport or game it is.”
So what is left to conquer aft er his trophy case is fully stocked? “I would like to get into course design,” he shares—clearly having a love of the course itself—but family always remains top of mind. “Hopefully in 20 years I’m retired and I’m chasing my kids around, watching them play.” Sounds like he has his eye on the right ball, indeed.
Photography by: Photographed by Greg Hinsdale, Styled by Linda Medvene, Shot on location at Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, Santa Monica, Calif., Photo assistant Tommy Agustus, Digital Tech Ray Wadia