In the past, Dustin Johnson might have been tempted to follow up a round of golf with a few rounds at the bar.
But on Friday, after shooting a 1-over-par 73 on the Blue Monster at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Johnson was eager to reunite at the hotel with 2-month-old son Tatum and fiancée Paulina Gretzky.
Golf’s reformed party boy prefers nesting to drinking.
“Even after a bad day you get to go back to your room and see your little guy, and it doesn’t seem so bad anymore,” he said. “Being a father changes your perspective.”
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Johnson did not have a bad day at Trump National Doral, merely an uneven one. His five bogeys and four birdies put him in a tie for sixth place, six shots behind leader J.B. Holmes, who returned to earth with a 73 after carding an otherworldly 62 on Thursday.
Johnson’s low points were a drive into the water on No. 7 and a rescue out of the cantankerous back bunker on No. 16.
Otherwise he seemed mildly satisfied with his performance under placid conditions.
“I rolled it well, hit it well, was swinging well and my putting is good with the greens getting firmer and faster,” he said. “It’s a tough course depending on the wind and not that easy to protect a lead, so I’m hoping to get something going.”
If Johnson can summon two stellar weekend rounds, he can continue his impressively quick comeback from a six-month layoff. The 7,528-yard layout revamped by Gil Hanse under the meticulous eye of golf course collector Donald Trump suits Johnson’s ability as one of the longest drivers and most athletic players on the PGA Tour. He can hit a golf ball 400-plus yards, and he can dunk a basketball.
Johnson, 30, took a hush-hush leave of absence from the tour starting Aug. 1 to seek help for what he called “personal challenges.”
“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 fulfill my potential and become a consistent champion,” he said in a statement.
But the leave was essentially a six-month suspension imposed by the PGA Tour after Johnson tested positive for cocaine, according to Golf.com, which reported Johnson failed a drug test for marijuana in 2009 and one for cocaine in 2012, for which he also served an unannounced suspension that coincided with his 11-week layoff from the tour — that he ascribed to a back injury sustained when he lifted a jet ski.
In interviews with Sports Illustrated and ESPN, Johnson said his problem was drinking too much vodka to relieve stress but denied he had a cocaine habit.
By adhering to a policy of non-transparency, the PGA Tour only added to the rumors surrounding Johnson. Unlike other leagues that have gone public with punitive actions, the PGA Tour is not required to announce any sanctions of players who test positive for recreational drugs. Thus, in a sleight of semantics, the tour could deny Johnson was suspended while forcing him to take six months off.
Johnson said the sabbatical was a healing and productive time away from the pressure of being hailed as the most promising American golfer of his generation, with near misses at the PGA Championship and U.S. Open in 2010 and at Doral and the British Open in 2011.
He dedicated himself to gym workouts, adding 10 pounds of muscle. He played golf with his future father-in-law, NHL Hall of Famer Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky. He was removed from the tournament scene, where alcohol is central to the amenities, such as at Doral’s Grey Goose, Moet and Chandon and Escalade lounges. He and Paulina became parents.
“A lot of things that were important are not as important anymore,” Johnson said. “Having a child helps you calm down.”
Paulina, 26, the eldest of Gretzky and Janet Jones’ five children, was known as a celebutante in the same vein as the Kardashian sisters, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. While Johnson was winning tournaments, she was busy posting racy photos on her popular Instagram account. She played Bikini Girl Daisy in Grown Ups 2, sang a song featured on an MTV show and did modeling gigs.
But baby Tatum has ushered in a more subdued lifestyle for the couple in Jupiter. Johnson’s fans welcome the change and hope it leads to a major championship.
“Hanging out at the clubhouse or the local bar, talking shop, and soon you’re up to a few drinks — and those older cats on the tour were heavy drinkers back in the day,” said Michael Like of Hollywood, who was in the gallery Friday. “I’d love to see Dustin come back strong. There are a lot of functioning drunks and drug addicts, but for him to separate himself and become as great as he can be, he’s got to have discipline.”