Golfer Dustin Johnson: From Controversy to Major Championship

Dustin Johnson tees off during the Canadian Open tournament
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images 

Dustin Johnson has been a success almost from the moment he showed up on the PGA Tour as one of pro golf's longest drivers. His power can overwhelm golf courses, but, early in his career, he had a knack for blowing big opportunities and a reputation as something of a wild child. Once he settled down and started a family, the wins — including his first major championship trophy — only increased, and he also reached No.

1 in the world rankings.

Johnson's Tour Wins

  • PGA Tour: 17 (Johnson's individual tournament wins are listed below)
  • Major championships: 1

Johnson's one win in a major (so far) happened at the 2016 U.S. Open.

Awards and Honors for Dustin Johnson

  • PGA Tour Player of the Year, 2016
  • PGA Tour money leader, 2016
  • PGA Tour scoring average leader, 2016
  • Member, Team USA in Ryder Cup, 2010, 2012, 2016
  • Member, Team USA in Presidents Cup, 2011, 2015, 2017
  • Member, Team USA in Walker Cup, 2007

Johnson's Early Years and Start as a Pro Golfer

Johnson was born on June 22, 1984, in Columbia, S.C., and he stayed in South Carolina through the early part of his career. That included playing college golf for Coastal Carolina University. Johnson was a seven-time NCAA winner at CCU, and was named first-team All-American in 2006 and 2007. He was the Big South's Conference Player of the Year three successive seasons.

Also while an amateur, Johnson played on Team USA's winning Palmer Cup and Walker Cup squads.

Shortly after that Walker Cup appearance, Johnson turned pro. He made his pro debut at the 2007 Valero Texas Open, missing the cut.

Over the last few months of 2007, Johnson entered all three stages of PGA Tour Q-School, and he wound up finishing 14th in the final stage — good enough to earn his rookie status on the PGA Tour for 2008.

Johnson immediately showed the huge power that would come to be the hallmark of his game. (Since 2008, Johnson has never finished outside the Top 5 in the tour's driving distance stats.) He posted three Top 10 finishes as a rookie and finished 42nd on the money list. And he won his first tournament, the Turning Stone Resort Championship, with birdies on each of the final two holes.

Johnson added another win in 2009, then entered a period where his stardom grew quickly, although not always for the right reasons.

Close Calls and Major Collapses

The year 2010 was a breakout season for Johnson. He won twice on the PGA Tour and made his first Ryder Cup team. And he was in the thick of things at two majors before late collapses or blunders cost him.

At the 2010 U.S. Open, Johnson held a three-stroke lead after three rounds. But in the final round, he ballooned to an 82 and fell to fifth place.

Then at the 2010 PGA Championship, Johnson appeared to finish the tournament at Whistling Straits tied for lead and in a playoff. But on the final hole, Johnson had failed to recognize he was in a bunker and subsequently received a 2-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a hazard. That knocked him out of the playoff and down to fifth place.

But while Johnson inadvertently laid claim to the "best without a major" title, he continued winning other tournaments. That included multiple WGC events. He blew another opportunity in a major, however, at the 2015 U.S. Open, where Johnson missed a three-foot eagle putt on the final hole that would have given him the title.

Johnson's First Major Win Came With Controversy

Even when Johnson did earn that first major championship — it happened at the 2016 U.S. Open and was his 10th overall win on the PGA Tour — it came with controversy.

During the final round, on his fifth hole, Johnson's ball moved slightly on the green as he was preparing to putt. After stepping away and speaking with the on-site rules official, Johnson was told there was no penalty and continued. However, a few holes later USGA officials approached Johnson and told him after reviewing the incident, he probably would face a penalty — but one they would not decide on until after the round.

Johnson played the remainder of the final round under the cloud of not knowing exactly what his score was (penalty stroke or no?). 

Johnson rendered the penalty moot, however, by shooting 69 and winning by three strokes.

Keeping the Momentum Going: Johnson Reaches No. 1

That U.S. Open win was the first of three PGA Tour victories by Johnson in 2016, a year in which he also led the tour in earnings and scoring average and won the Player of the Year Award.

In 2017, Johnson won four tournaments, two of which were WGC events. His first win of 2017 was the Genesis Open, and that victory pushed Johnson, for the first time, into the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Johnson opened 2018 by winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions, his 17th career PGA Tour. Johnson joined Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as the only golfers of the past three decades to reach 17 career wins before age 34.

Dustin Johnson's Family

Johnson's longtime partner is model and onetime celebutante Paulina Gretzky. Paulina, daughter of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, was not unknown to golf fans even before she started dating Johnson; the entire Gretzky family is golf-mad.

Johnson and Gretzky are not married, but have been together since 2013. They got engaged in mid-2013. The couple has two sons: Tatum (born Jan. 19, 2015) and River (born June 12, 2017).

Johnson's brother Austin is his caddie.

Controversies: Drug Suspensions

In the middle of the 2014 season, Johnson announced a leave of absence from the PGA Tour to deal with "personal challenges." But according to several golf publications, the break was because Johnson had been suspended by the PGA Tour for a positive drug test.

Golf Magazine reported that Johnson tested positive for cocaine use.

The PGA Tour had a policy of never announcing or confirming suspensions due to drug testing, and the tour maintained Johnson's leave was voluntary. Golf Magazine, however, reported that Johnson had also been suspended by the tour for a positive drug test in 2009 and another one in 2012.

Dustin Johnson Trivia

  • Three of Johnson's first seven wins were in tournaments shortened to 54 holes due to bad weather: the 2009 Pebble Beach Pro-Am, 2011 Barclays and 2013 Tournament of Champions.
  • Through the end of the 2017 season, Johnson had five wins in World Golf Championships (WGC) events. That's more than anyone else not named Tiger Woods (Woods leads with 18 wins in such tournaments).
  • Through 2018, Johnson has at least one PGA Tour victory in every season since his rookie one, 11 seasons in a row. Only Jack Nicklaus (17) and Tiger Woods (14) had longer such streaks beginning with their rookie years.

List of Dustin Johnson's Pro Wins

Here are all the PGA Tour tournaments won by Johnson, listed chronologically:

  • 2008 Turning Stone Resort Championship
  • 2009 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
  • 2010 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
  • 2010 BMW Championship
  • 2011 The Barclays
  • 2012 FedEx St. Jude Classic
  • 2013 Hyundai Tournament of Champions
  • 2013 WGC HSBC Champions
  • 2015 WGC Cadillac Championship
  • 2016 U.S. Open
  • 2016 WGC Bridgestone Invitational
  • 2016 BMW Championship
  • 2017 Genesis Open
  • 2017 WGC Mexico Championship
  • 2017 WGC Dell Technologies Match Play
  • 2017 The Northern Trust
  • 2018 Sentry Tournament of Champions