'The One Thing I Love About Golf Is You Strive For Perfection But It's Never Going To Happen' – Inside The Mind Of A Misunderstood Dustin Johnson

Dustin Johnson is one of the best golfers of the last 20 years and a future Hall of Famer, but he's actually quite different to how he's perceived

dustin johnson
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In a sport where the majority of players seem to follow a similar path in the pursuit of greatness, things get a lot more interesting when we get the outliers who are almost unrecognisable from their peers. Dustin Johnson is a particular case in point. If you’re looking for a player to wax lyrical about a tournament or a new sponsor, you wouldn’t position Johnson anywhere near the front.

The South Carolinian, who turns 40 next June, has an X account but it hasn’t been used for a year. His Instagram account has over one million followers, but offers the bare minimum that his LIV Golf employers most likely require. If you’re looking for a few nuggets in a pre-tournament press conference, he will likely offer, if you’re lucky, half as much as a Rory McIlroy or a Jordan Spieth

But in spite of that, there's something so fascinating about the man affectionately nicknamed DJ. And there's more than sometimes meets the eye. Claude Harmon has coached Johnson for the vast majority of the past decade and he pinpoints part of Johnson’s success to something that not many of us would suspect.

“DJ is very meticulous, I don’t think people would realise that. He’s very organised, which you maybe wouldn’t think about him. The headcovers all have to match the bag. At the US Open, TaylorMade had a really funky and colourful bag, but one of his headcovers didn’t match it and he could never use that. So they had to go and find a different one,”  he says. 

“He’s very organised. If we’ve got a car, he will keep the bag, towels, balls and shoes in specific places. Because he’s so nonchalant, you wouldn’t think he’s borderline OCD about the way he looks. If he gets a stain on his shirt then we’re calling somebody to go and get another one.”

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Claude Harmon has coached DJ for a number of years

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Johnson views himself in a similar light, and there's perhaps no other professional golfer out there who has the same levels of self-acceptance and comfortability with who they are. 

"As chilled as I am, I’m very particular about everything, especially golf wise," says Johnson. "The lies, lofts, shafts, weights, whatever it is, I’m very meticulous. With golf, it’s never going to be perfect, but I try to practise perfect. The one thing I love about golf is you strive for perfection but it’s never going to happen,” he says.

“I usually come out an hour-and-a-half before I play. I’ll putt first and then go to the range and start with wedges, then my 8-, 6- and 4-iron. It’s the same thing every day. I’ve done that for years. I take my time and make sure I’m never rushing. Most of my warm-up is with my wedges – if I’m hitting my numbers with those, everything else will fall into place.”

Johnson's way of operating has clearly worked. His career has included two Major wins, six victories apiece in the WGCs and FedExCup play-offs and numerous Ryder Cup appearances. More latterly, he’s won two LIV Golf events and his 4Aces outfit ran away with the team title in its inaugural year.

“I’ve done alright. I’ve missed a lot of opportunities, but I’ve also done pretty well too,” explains Johnson with typical modesty and simplicity.

There have also been some Major near misses in there, too, but to say Johnson doesn't dwell on those is perhaps the understatement of the century. 

In the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach, he went to bed on the Saturday night with a three-shot lead before blowing that with an outward 42. The following year, Rory McIlroy shot the same score to throw away The Masters, a round that seems to have haunted him ever since. “That one probably bothered me until the next day,” says Johnson.

Later that season, Johnson looked like making his Major breakthrough when he came down the 72nd hole with a one-shot lead at Whistling Straits in the US PGA Championship. He then grounded his club in one of the thousand sandy areas he didn’t realise were classified as bunkers. He was handed a two-shot penalty and somehow finished in a tie for fifth. “I was frustrated for about an hour,” Johnson adds.

dustin johnson 2010 whistling straits

Johnson suffered final-hole agony at the 2010 US PGA

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Fast forward to the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay, where he had a 12-foot eagle putt to beat Jordan Spieth. However, he ended up taking three more shots. How did he react to that? His response probably won’t surprise you at this point. “I slept in a little bit that morning. But, yeah, I played golf the next day after Chambers.”

You wouldn't put it past Johnson to win multiple additional Major titles, though it's probably fair to say his form in 2023 has fallen short of his high standards. But whatever happens next, he'll continue to be a fascinating and popular cog in the professional golfing wheel. 

Mark Townsend
Contributing editor

Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.

With contributions from