AUGUSTA, Ga. — You know what your perception of Dustin Johnson has been?
You thought Johnson was so chill that nothing affects him, win or lose. That he cares so little that the wins are ho-hum and the losses don’t bother him. That he’s so talented he’s never really had to work very hard. That he’s so numb he has no emotions.
If those have been your perceptions about Johnson, hopefully you watched the green jacket winner’s ceremony on the Augusta National practice green Sunday afternoon after Johnson won the Masters for the first time.
As cool, calm, collected and borderline catatonic as he appeared on the golf course, dusting his nearest competitors by five shots and posting a tournament-record 20-under par, Johnson was a mess emotionally while being awarded the green jacket.
With the practice green ringed with about 400 people, consisting of tournament officials, Augusta members, player families and media, Johnson was being interviewed by CBS’ Amanda Balionis and he cried.
Yes, Dustin Johnson cried.
He had to pause several times to compose himself as he tried to answer Balionis’ questions.
“It’s a dream come true … as a kid I always dreamed of being a Masters champion,’’ Johnson said.
He looked over at his fiancée, Paulina Gretzky, his brother and caddie, Austin, his coach, Claude Harmon III, and some other members of his team and Johnson froze. He couldn’t speak.
“I’m sorry,’’ Johnson said, pausing again. “I can’t even talk. I’ve never had this much trouble gathering myself.’’
The players who spent the day chasing Johnson in vain only wish he had that much trouble making birdies and pars.
This may sound like sacrilege, particularly to the golf junkies in the room (which I am one of), but watching the way Johnson reacted to having that 42-long green jacket slipped over his shoulders by 2019 champion Tiger Woods was more compelling theater than watching him win it.
The CBS interview was over now, Johnson was in the arms of Paulina and as the gathering around the putting green dispersed, one of the Augusta National members clad in his green jacket was overhead to say to another: “They’re all human.’’
That’s the thing about Johnson. Outside of those who are closest to him, human is the last thing most of us viewed him as. Because he’s so ridiculously talented and because the vibe he gives off screams indifference.
“He doesn’t throw clubs or curse at me or do any of that stuff, and that’s just because he’s a class act,’’ Johnson’s younger brother and caddie, Austin, said. “That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. The guy cares more than anybody. I think just because we’re southern guys, laid back and talk a little slow, everybody thinks we don’t really care.’’
The Johnson brothers grew up an hour away from the gates to Augusta National, in Irmo, S.C. They hit balls well past darkness at a place called Weed Hill Driving Range and every putt they rolled on the practice green was to win an imaginary Masters.
“They had lights on the range, and most nights I would shut the lights off when I was leaving,’’ Johnson recalled.
Now, all these years later, the brothers were together on the 18th green at Augusta National and Dustin had just tapped in for par and the win and went straight over to his brother and hugged him, Austin wiping away tears.
“Yeah, I was trying to hold them back, but it was tough,’’ Austin said. “This was the one we dreamed about growing up just down the road. I remember being out on the putting green late at night and every putt was to win the Masters.’’
Dustin called it “unbelievable having my brother on my bag,’’ adding, “I just love experiencing all these moments with him. I wouldn’t want it any other way.’’
What was Dustin like Sunday morning with a four-shot lead entering the final round?
“He’s always pretty much the same DJ — laid back, pretty calm,’’ Austin said. “You can’t tell if we’re coming down the stretch of a major or if we’re laying on the couch watching football by his reactions.
“He seemed really focused this morning. He had his mind set on what he wanted to do and it didn’t seem like anything was going to knock him off course from doing that.’’
Until after the tournament was over and he was asked to put it into words.
“It means so much to me … it means so much to my family, Paulina, the kids,’’ Johnson said. “They know it’s something that I’ve always been dreaming about and it’s why I work so hard. To finally have the dream come true, I think that’s why you see all that emotion.’’
All these years into a Hall of Fame-bound career, and it took a Masters victory to open our eyes to who Dustin Johnson really is.