Johnson loosens up after U.S. Open victory

Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Akron, Ohio — Dustin Johnson is not one for many words, and he really doesn’t need to say much.

The easy smile behind the beard says it all.

If winning the U.S. Open champion wasn’t enough, Johnson added his third World Golf Championship on Sunday, the first time he has won back to back.

His U.S. Open title was popular because of the hard times he had to confront in the majors and the confusion he had to face from the USGA for not making up its mind about a penalty on the back nine at Oakmont. And because Johnson is simply fun to watch and be around.

He was loose all week at Firestone.

During the opening round Thursday, he checked a reporter’s phone for the score in the deciding game of the College World Series. His alma mater, Coastal Carolina, won the school’s first national title. Does that lessen his chances to be alum of the year? Johnson laughed and said, “Bro, I couldn’t care less.”

He is the U.S. Open champion and couldn’t be happier.

Paulina Gretzky, his fiancee and the daughter of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, had to leave Friday and Johnson kept their 18-month-old son, Tatum, with him in Ohio (with help from a nanny). Cameras caught him after he closed with a 66 on the phone with her saying, “I found him.”

“I didn’t know where they were, and Paulina was asking me where they were,” he said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know, I just walked off the course.’”

He had the boy in his arms and later was chasing after him while waiting to see if Jason Day or Scott Piercy could catch him.

Johnson said they had planned to get married last fall until it didn’t fit in the schedule, so perhaps the wedding will be later this year. Asked if it would be more extravagant as a U.S. Open champion, Johnson smiled and said, “Don’t matter to me. That bill is going to Wayne.”

But as easy as Johnson can make golf look, it still requires hard work.

Three years ago, Johnson was tied for 113th on the PGA Tour in approach shots from 50 to 125 yards.

Now he is No. 1 on tour.

“Obviously, it’s working,” Johnson said. “So I’m going to keep doing it.”

That wasn’t the only change for Johnson, 32, who is often considered to have the most athletic ability of any golfer.

At some point late last year, he decided to move away from his natural right-to-left draw off the tee and go to a fade.

“I was tired of hitting hooks,” he said with a grin. “I feel like I hit a lot more fairways. Maybe the stats don’t say it, but I feel like I do, so I think that’s the important thing. I just don’t feel like my misses are as bad.”

It was a big part at Firestone, especially in such firm conditions that made hitting the fairway even more difficult.