Dustin Johnson has basketball in his blood and plans to become the son-in-law of perhaps the greatest player in hockey history, but now he is doing just fine on the golf course.
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Johnson has risen to No. 1 in the world golf rankings with three PGA Tour wins last season, including the U.S. Open, and two triumphs already this season.
“I feel like the game’s in really good shape,” Johnson said. “I took a lot of time off in the offseason, so I could be refreshed and ready to go this year. “
Johnson, 32, has been a regular on the PGA Tour since 2008 and has 14 career victories, but he might being playing basketball if he had followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, Art Whisnant, who played at South Carolina and was a three-time all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection in the early 1960s.
Johnson is 6 feet 4 and can still dunk a basketball, but he decided to take up golf with some urging from his father, Scott, who was a club professional when Dustin was growing up.
“Call him Gumby,” Kansas City golf legend Tom Watson said. “He’s very flexible. he’s quite an athlete. He has the power to make golf courses play short. Everybody wants power. I remember when I could do that. He is one of the longest hitters and he has settled into a good groove.
“His life is good. If he keeps his focus on being a better player, he will keep playing well.”
Johnson’s life includes fiancée Paulina Gretzky, daughter of retired hockey great Wayne Gretzky, who was Johnson’s partner in last month’s pro-am at Pebble Beach. Paulina Gretzky is pregnant with their second child.
While Johnson has had to deal with past issues, such as rumors of a drug problem — an allegation he denies — he has been able to rise to the top of the game.
After winning last year’s U.S. Open, he followed it up with victories at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and the BMW Championship.
“It was a good year,” Johnson said. “Obviously, to get the first major win was huge.
“This year, I’m just looking for kind of the same thing. Just keep putting myself in position to win golf tournaments.”
Johnson has already captured two PGA Tour titles in 2017, winning the Genesis Open and the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship.
“It hasn’t really let up any,” Johnson said of his success. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in the game. I feel like I’m controlling my ball very well. I’m starting to drive a little straighter.”
Johnson appears to be following Watson’s advice to focus on getting better. He said he is striving to improve his short game.
“That’s one thing I focused on a lot last year was just wedges, and so I’m going to keep doing that, and short game and putting,” Johnson said. “That’s where, for me, if my wedges are good and I chip and putt well, I’m going to play pretty well most days.
“It’s kind of the same focus this year. Just keep trying to improve in those areas.”
Johnson took a little time off following his win in Mexico but will return for the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play starting Wednesday in Austin, Texas. He also plans to play in the Shell Houston Open before the Masters, which is April 6-9 in Augusta, Ga.
Johnson had a simple reply when asked if he could have this much success if he played more often.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t keep track of the losses.”
Johnson said his desire to win tournaments drives him more than the battle to keep the No. 1 spot in the world rankings.
“Of course, I want to be the best,” he said. “Obviously there’s ways to get there, and that’s by winning golf tournaments.
“I don’t really focus on becoming No. 1 as much as I do just playing the golf tournament that I’m playing, putting myself in position to win it on Sunday.
Tom Smith: 816-234-4240