Impressions of Dustin JohnsonBreaking down this month’s ubiquitous magazine cover subject
April 05, 2021
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
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Dustin Johnson is everywhere.
If you’ve spent any time at the newsstand lately, you’ve seen this week’s defending Masters champion on the cover of Golf Digest. And Golf Magazine. And Cigar Aficionado, with fiancée Paulina Gretzky. And Modern Luxury Manhattan. He is posing with his driver, hitting a shot, smoking a cigar, and rocking not the green jacket but a stylish black leather one.
Two of the cover stories mention the name of his yacht, Just Chillin’. One of them enlists DJ in making a pimento cheese sandwich. Another has him recreating an iconic cover shot from 24 years ago. Another still reveals his unusual standard breakfast on tournament days.
But which writer was surprised to wind up sharing a pizza with him?
Herewith, a quick rundown.
Headline: “The Natural”
Writer: David Savona
Gist of article: The human side of a superstar with a dream life. “I was home, he was home,” Savona says of their interview. “I got him in the morning, before his workout. When I called him at 7:30, there were some kids’ noises, and he was like, ‘Hey, man, I need a few minutes, can you call me back?’ It turned out he was taking his kids to school.”
Fun fact: Johnson made his high school golf team as a seventh grader.
Cover backstory: The magazine recreated a March/April 1997 cover of Wayne Gretzky and wife Janet; Gretzky suggested the concept to Cigar Aficionado publisher and owner Marvin R. Shanken while they were playing golf. “We recreated the pose down to the outfits,” Savona says. “White dress shirt and black slacks for Dustin and Wayne, the smoking jacket for Paulina and Janet. The way they’re holding the cigars is the same. It’s a real homage to when Paulina’s parents appeared on the cover. We got a great reaction to it; people really liked the image.”
Where interviewed: “We’re actually not supposed to say precisely where we did it,” Savona says. “It was at a golf club. And I had about an hour with him on the phone for the story.”
Quote wall: “The distance he hits it, as straight as he hits it, we all wonder how he ever loses a golf tournament.” – Jack Nicklaus
DJ on DJ: “My favorite thing about the Masters is the sandwiches.”
Takeaway: “I’d never spoken with him before, even though he had gone to a couple of our events,” Savona says. “We’re co-sponsors of the Els for Autism Pro-Am, and he’s participated in the past, down in Jupiter, at Old Palm. The overall impression I got is he comes across as a pretty easygoing guy, despite being the world’s No. 1 golfer and being engaged to the daughter of the greatest hockey player ever. He has a lot of regular guy to him, which is pretty remarkable.”
Writer: Daniel Rapaport
Gist of article: Johnson has a Zen-like ability to stay in the present moment.
Fun fact: Johnson had to tame his aggression and learn to manage his game. “He was a free-wheeler,” Butch Harmon says. “As he used to say, on every hole, ‘I’m just sending it, bro.’”
Where interviewed: Floridian Golf Club. “We spent about four hours with DJ capturing a bunch of different content—instructional videos, fun videos, cover shots, fun shots—before I sat down with him for an extended interview,” Rapaport says. “I wanted to take a deeper dive into DJ’s mind … it’s clear that his outlook is the envy of his peers. I’m a big meditation guy, and from afar I thought he best personifies the benefits of a quiet mind and thought control. The guy is 36 and he’s been a force in golf for a decade, so you have to find an angle to avoid simply re-stating what’s already been written.”
Quote wall: “Dustin has a wonderful ability to be very interested in what he’s doing but to underreact to everything.” – Dr. Bob Rotella
DJ on DJ: “I try not to overcomplicate stuff – shots. Obviously, I’ve played enough golf. I understand the game very well.”
Takeaway: “I believe there are lessons in the way he goes about his business,” Rapaport says. “That there are only a few select people whose opinions matter, and that the key is identifying who those people are, and who they are not. As far as golf goes, that there’s no need to add any significance to a bad shot or a bad round. We all have a tendency to try to add a second sentence to a poor outcome. I played terrible…so I am terrible. I hit this bad shot…because I stink at hitting draws. There is no need to add the second sentence. Dustin has an innate ability to ignore narratives entirely. Some things in life just are.”
Writer: Josh Sens
Gist of article: Johnson has worked hard to get the most from his talent.
Fun fact: “I was less surprised by DJ than I was by his brother Austin, who was very engaging and funny,” Sens says. “It's probably easier to be the caddie than the star. It made me wonder whether DJ has some of that in him and just doesn't show it. I was also surprised to learn that DJ's nickname in high school was Styles DJ. A snappy dresser who really cared how he looked.”
Where interviewed: “The cover shoot was in Florida a few weeks before we met,” Sens says, “so I only interacted with DJ for the interview, which we did on an outdoor patio at the Fairmont in Santa Monica. DJ looked ridiculously relaxed, lounging back on a chair, enjoying the weather. But he hadn't had time to eat and was really hungry. His agent ran out and got him a pizza from down the street. I was hungry, too, but didn't want to mooch food off my subject. I think DJ saw me eying the pizza because he offered me a slice. And, when I ate that slice, he offered another. He was insistent that I share with him. That seemed like good southern manners to me.”
Quote wall: “Dustin was obviously a big hitter and a good player, but I’d be lying if I said that I knew how good he was going to be.” – Allen Terrell, Johnson’s coach at Coastal Carolina
DJ on DJ: “When I retire, I’m going to buy a bigger boat.”
Takeaway: “I had watched him on the range at Riviera, and he went to the very far end, far from all the other guys,” Sens says. “It was like he just needed to be in his own private Idaho. About 20 minutes into DJ's range session, Rory wandered up, said hello and started hitting balls beside him. He and DJ would pause now and then and engage in conversation. They seemed to have an easy rapport. I guess there's nothing too remarkable about this, but I was reminded of all the praise and supportive things Rory has said about DJ in the press in recent times. In particular, at Harding Park, where Rory was one of the first to leap to DJ's defense when Koepka threw shade on DJ's record in the majors. It underscored for me the level of respect DJ commands on Tour.”
MODERN LUXURY MANHATTAN
Writer: Phebe Wahl
Gist of article: Johnson is stylish and successful, but also a soft-spoken family man.
Fun fact: Johnson recently learned he’s allergic to gluten. “I’m very routine in what I do every day – especially before a tournament round,” he tells Wahl. “I eat the same breakfast, usually an omelet and an oatmeal pancake.”
Where interviewed: “The shoot was at the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica,” Wahl says, “and we also caught up over the phone while he was at home with his family. Sometimes with athletes at this level there are big egos, but Dustin was so humble and grounded. He was so pleasantly down-to-earth. I really enjoyed getting a glimpse inside his mind and understanding how much he loves the game. I loved seeing how much he loves his family. The joy and pride he has playing with his young children was apparent.”
DJ on DJ: “Paulina helps with my style for sure. She’s way more stylish than I am.”
Takeaway: “I walked away thinking Dustin is in it for the true love of the game,” Wahl says. “It was so refreshing to learn that someone at this level still feels that joy from the sport that got them interested in it as a kid.”