Dustin Johnson: can golfs world No 1 stay out of the rough?
Natural talent took him to the very top of golf cocaine brought him right back down. Now with the partying over and sporting royalty calling him family, will Dustin Johnson be unbeatable at the Open? By Alan Shipnuck
There is no better metaphor for Dustin Johnson than slipping on the stairs. For all of his victories 15 and counting on golfs PGA Tour the career of the lanky 33-year-old has been defined by pratfalls. There was the lost ball during a final round 82 to blow a three-shot lead in the 2010 US Open; the 72nd hole penalty for grounding his club in an ill-defined bunker at the 2010 PGA Championship, costing him a spot in a playoff; the wicked slice out of bounds down the stretch at the 2011 Open Championship, which allowed Darren Clarke to cruise to victory.
More seriously, there was the fall from grace that came with his six-month leave of absence to address personal challenges that followed the revelations on Golf.com that Johnson had failed three drug tests, for marijuana and cocaine. In that time away from the game Johnson reinvented himself personally and professionally, and he has been a dominant force since his return in early 2015.
He overpowered Oakmont, the scariest course this side of Carnoustie, to take the 2016 US Open, and this winter topped the world rankings. Johnson had won three straight tournaments heading into the US Masters, the immensely watchable competition on a lush Georgia course which heralds the start of spring for golf fans. Johnson had established himself as the overwhelming favourite and then he was tripped up by fates fickle finger: padding around a rental home in socks on the eve of the tournament, he slipped on the wooden stairs and wrenched his back. He was forced to withdraw and, in the two months since, his game has deserted him, including desultory performances at Jack Nicklauss Memorial tournament and the US Open.
So Johnson arrives at Royal Birkdale outside Liverpool for the Open on 20 July at another crossroads: can he prosper on a course that has always favoured his brand of macho ball striking and take the next step to greatness, or will his recent stumbles turn into another crisis?