This week, Dustin Johnson returns to action at the Farmers Insurance Open following a leave of absence to ‘seek professional help for personal challenges I have faced
This week, Dustin Johnson returns to action at the Farmers Insurance Open following a leave of absence to ‘seek professional help for personal challenges I have faced.’
The big-hitting American’s break from the game was mired in controversy, particularly after a golf.com report surfaced alleging Johnson had actually been suspended for contravening the PGA Tour’s anti-doping policy.
Both parties strenuously denied those allegations – Johnson most recently in an interview with Sports Illustrated – but doubts do remain about the PGA Tour’s lack of transparency when it comes to disciplinary matters.
But that’s a secondary issue, and most Johnson fans will be hoping he’s managed to fix whatever was so serious it required six months away from the game.
In the Sports Illustrated interview, he claimed he didn’t have a problem with cocaine but admitted to ‘having issues’, more specifically a periodic Vodka over-indulgence.
His rhetoric has been guarded since his return to the public spotlight, but the Instagram pictures that surfaced during his absence weren’t indicative of a man going through serious psychological trauma.
In that period, his wife, Paulina Gretzky, also gave birth to the couple’s first child.
He did, however, admit to seeking the help of a life coach to help him understand how to get the most of his talent.
And that’s what we should be focusing on now - not his alleged penchant for cocaine, not his relationship with a famous hockey player’s daughter and not the real motivation behind his extended sojourn.
The past is the past
The past doesn’t matter now. All that’s important is that Johnson has received help for whatever he needed help with.
The fact remains that he's one of the most talented players in the world game, as well as being a big draw for fans through his monstrous hitting and impressive athleticism.
The world of golf – from both a competitive and commercial standpoint – is better with Johnson in the picture.
So let’s leave the past behind and look ahead to what could be a significant season for the 30-year-old. He’s no longer a gifted youngster but a PGA Tour veteran who – to this point – hasn’t fulfilled all his promise.
I know he’s won multiple tour titles, including the 2013 WGC-HSBC Champions (below), but he’s now been on tour for more than seven years and doesn't have any majors in the trophy cabinet.
At this level, that's what you're defined by.
But that could all change this year, if, and this is a big if, he’s recogised his shortcomings, gained some perspective and decided to dedicate himself completely to the sport.
Encouraging, it seems as if he has. To me, his break from golf stemmed from a desire to reset at a key career juncture, rather than being facilitated by more pernicious factors.
On paper, he’s timed his comeback to perfection. He boasts a strong record at Torrey Pines and is a two-time AT&A National Pebble Beach Pro-Am champion, where the PGA Tour heads next week.
This year’s major venues also look perfectly suited to Johnson.
Both the US Open and PGA Championship take place at on coastal layouts, where Johnson often produces his best golf.
He’ll be particularly determined to succeed in the USPGA at Whistling Straits, where he missed out on a play-off in 2010 after grounding his club in a sandy area he didn’t deem to be a bunker.
So instead of looking back, let’s look ahead.
Johnson should be refreshed and re-invigorated after his leave of absence and that, coupled with a newfound desire and stability in his private life, could lead to the Major success that’s proved so elusive over the past few years.
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Nick Bonfield joined Golf Monthly in 2012 after graduating from Exeter University and earning an NCTJ-accredited journalism diploma from News Associates in Wimbledon. He is responsible for managing production of the magazine, sub-editing, commissioning and feature writing. Most of his online work is opinion-based and typically centres around the Majors and significant events in the global golfing calendar. Nick has been an avid golf fan since the age of ten and became obsessed with the professional game after watching Mike Weir and Shaun Micheel win The Masters and PGA Championship respectively in 2003. In his time with Golf Monthly, he's interviewed the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jose Maria Olazabal, Henrik Stenson, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Billy Horschel and has ghost-written columns for Westwood, Wayne Riley, Matthew Southgate, Chris Wood and Eddie Pepperell. Nick is a 12-handicap golfer and his favourite courses include Old Head, Sunningdale New, Penha Longha, Valderrama and Bearwood Lakes. If you have a feature pitch for Nick, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with 'Pitch' in the subject line. Nick is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade M1 Fairway wood: TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 Hybrid: Ping Crossover Irons (4-9): Nike Vapor Speed Wedges: Cleveland CBX Full Face, 56˚, Titleist Vokey SM4, 60˚ Putter: testing in progress! Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
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