Dustin Johnson became Golf’s newest world number one after victory in the Genesis Open, but it has taken one heck of a journey to get to that incredible destination.
“It has been a long journey,” Dustin Johnson told the media after confirming his status as world number one on Sunday. That is certainly an apt way to describe his path to the pinnacle of the golfing world rankings.
In stark contrast to his career as a whole, the tournament which confirmed him as golf’s number one player was relatively plain sailing. The hard-hitting American cruised to a five-stroke victory at the Riviera Country Club to leapfrog Jason Day at the top of the world rankings.
It marks a stunning start to 2017 for the 32-year-old, following on from a stellar 2016 in which he earned his first ever major and helped the USA end an eight-year wait for Ryder Cup glory.
“To finally get a win at the Genesis Open feels good. I’ve finished second here a couple times, lost in a play-off and felt like I should have won a couple other times. It’s definitely nice to win on a golf course that I really enjoy playing and a golf tournament I really enjoy playing.” – Dustin Johnson after his Genesis Open triumph
However, what makes Johnson’s recent achievements all the more special are the demons he has had to face on his way to his glittering success.
After turning professional in 2007, Johnson’s Genesis Open victory maintains his run of at least one tournament win in every one of his seasons on tour. He joins an exclusive club of four players to have won in each of their first 10 seasons, a club which includes undisputed golfing legends Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.
Sounds like a pretty smooth career so far, right?
However, Johnson’s career was thrown an unwanted curveball in 2014. DJ would take what was described as a “voluntary” six-month break from golf to overcome “personal challenges”. Reports of a drugs ban were quashed by a statement from the PGA Tour which asserted that Johnson’s absence was voluntary rather than a suspension.
Speaking in August 2014, Johnson said: “I will use this time to seek professional help for personal challenges I have faced.
“By committing the time and resources necessary to improve my mental health, physical well-being and emotional foundation, I am confident that I will be better equipped to fulfil my potential and become a consistent champion.”
The big-hitter would go on to miss the US PGA Championship as well as the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. Having been the Americans’ only unbeaten golfer in Medinah two years earlier, his absence was always going to be a blow to Tom Watson’s team, who went on to lose 16½-11½ to Paul McGinley’s Europeans.
The reaction of fellow golfers to the news of Johnson’s absence certainly emphasised the respect that DJ’s peers have for his talent.
“I’ll tell you what, you always want guys with that kind of power to play on any team. I’ve been his partner in the Presidents Cup in Australia, and the firepower that he has, it’s pretty cool to be around. It’s not too often you see the guy carry the ball 320 (yards) without even trying, and then when he steps on it, he can hit it even further. When he gets it going, it’s awfully impressive.” – Tiger Woods
2014 US Ryder Cup captain Watson said: “We will certainly miss Dustin Johnson at Gleneagles, and we wish him the best.
“As one of the longest hitters in the game with an undefeated record of 3-and-0 at Medinah in 2012, he has clearly been an asset for the United States team.”
Meanwhile Justin Rose, who was a key component of Europe’s victory at Glenagles, added: “He’s always been a charismatic player and popular player out here.
“He’s not going to play in the Ryder Cup. That will be a blow for the American team. Just wish him well, whatever he’s facing right now. Can’t be easy for him.”
Just a month after making his return to the PGA Tour, Johnson reminded everyone of his golfing talent by sealing the 2015 WGC-Cadillac Championship, pipping fellow American J.B. Holmes by one stroke.
But it wasn’t until 2016 where, after a few near misses, DJ finally claimed his first major title, although even that was a rocky road.
Johnson calmly crossed the winning line at Oakmont by three strokes, a winning margin which could have been cut a controversial penalty for an incident on the 5th green.
As he was addressing his ball, the ball moved slightly, leading to discussions about a possible one-stroke penalty. Despite Johnson’s protests and playing partner Lee Westwood’s assurances that there was no infringement, he was forced to play the last seven holes knowing that a penalty was possible, leading to strong criticism of the organisers and rules officials from the likes of Rory McIlory and Jordan Spieth.
Having been close to majors without experiencing victory, letting him know that a penalty was possible without any clear black or white decision must have been a massive test of mental strength for DJ.
However, bearing in mind the troubles he has been through before, he showed an astonishing level of professionalism and level-headedness to cruise across the line to win by a three-shot margin, making any penalty meaningless.
Johnson confirmed his mental strength by explaining his approach to the final seven holes after he had finished his 18th hole.
DJ said: “At that point, I just thought I’d deal with it when I’m done. I tried to block it out and not let it bother me. Who cares, it doesn’t matter anymore.”
That US Open victory was a perfect summary of Johnson’s career in recent years, showcasing his talents to the world despite every obstacle that stands in his way.
And after helping Team USA seal Ryder Cup glory at Hazeltine, Johnson’s Genesis Open triumph has completed an arduous journey to the top of the golfing mountain.
He has become the 20th player in history to reach world number one status since the inauguration of the rankings in 1986 and – according to the man who relinquishes the number one spot, Jason Day – he fully deserves it.
“He deserves it because he’s been playing great golf.” – Jason Day
“Once that happened [Johnson’s US Open win], that was a big monkey off Dustin’s back and it freed him up. He was given a hard time for a long time about close calls in majors. [Johnson’s world number one status] is no surprise to us players, and I don’t think too much of a surprise to many others.” – Jordan Spieth
With a first major title finally under his belt and number one status in the bag, a confident Dustin Johnson will be a force to reckon with as he searches for more success in 2017.
From rock bottom in 2014, to the lofty heights of world number one in 2017, Dustin Johnson is a sportsman that proves that perseverance really does pay off.