'Dustin Johnson needs to eliminate some of the extra-curricular activities. There's a time to play and a time to work'
Dustin Johnson will miss America’s attempt to win back the Ryder Cup after revealing on Thursday night that he is “taking an immediate leave of absence from professional golf ... to seek professional help for personal challenges”.
The world No 16 is in fifth place in the standings and would have been assured of a third Ryder Cup appearance in Tom Watson’s team in Gleneagles.
There are widespread reports tonight that Johnson was in fact handed a six-month ban from golf chiefs.
Johnson has a chequered past and his long-time coach, Butch Harmon, handed him an ultimatum in 2011.
“We had a come-to-Jesus conversation about getting his personal life in order,” Harmon said. “I was very blunt. I told him he needs to figure out who he is and how committed he is to utilising his talent. And that when he’s playing tournaments he needs to eliminate some of the, shall we say, extra-curricular activities. He’s a fun-loving guy, I realise that. But there’s a time to play and a time to work.”
Johnson informed the PGA of America yesterday that he would not be available in the last week of September. His place will now go to whoever finishes 10th in the standings when US qualifying ends at the conclusion of next week’s US PGA. Patrick Reed currently fills that position.
In a statement, released through his management company, Johnson said: “I am taking a leave of absence from professional golf, effective immediately. I will use this time to seek professional help for personal challenges I have faced.
“By committing the time and resources necessary to improve my mental health, physical well-being and emotional foundation, I am confident that I will be better equipped to fulfil my potential and become a consistent champion. I respectfully ask my fans, well-wishers and the media for privacy as I embark upon this mission of self-improvement.”
Clearly, the statement leaves more questions than answers, with the Europe captain, Paul McGinley, saying it would simply lead to a “lot of speculation and rumours”.
“Things will be said that are not true,” McGinley said on Sky Sports. “It’s much better for everyone if there is clarity. If something has gone wrong and he has been misbehaving, let’s put it out on the table and get it dealt with and move forward.”
Watson was rather more political in his statement. “We will certainly miss Dustin Johnson at Gleneagles, and we wish him the best,” he said. “As one of the longest hitters in the game with an undefeated record at Medinah in 2012, he has clearly been an asset for the US team.”
It is fair to say Johnson has something of a chequered past. He was arrested as a 17-year-old for buying bullets that were later used in a gang murder and was in trouble again in 2009 – this time as a member of the PGA Tour – for driving under the influence. Johnson is seen an unfulfilled talent in the golfing community, with his penchant for the party scene often blamed.
In May 2012, Johnson’s agent, David Winkle, insisted his client had not been serving a drugs suspension from the PGA Tour when he spent three months out of the game.
For Watson, the loss could be significant, particularly if the conditions are wet and the emphasis is on distance. Johnson finished 12th at the Open two weeks ago and fourth in June’s US Open.
On Monday, he pulled out of this week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational citing “personal reasons”, which many took to mean he wanted to spend time with his fiancée, Paulina Gretzky, the daughter of ice hockey legend Wayne.
Now we know the “reasons were more serious. It could cost Johnson millions as he was in fourth place in the FedEx Cup, which boasts a £6.7 million prize for the winner.
The news inevitably overshadowed the first day of this World Golf Championship event, which featured the Englishman Justin Rose shooting a 65 to grab a share of second on five-under, one behind the pacesetter, Australia’s Marc Leishman. Rose’s scorecard featured five birdies and no bogeys.
The headlines would normally have been grabbed by Tiger Woods, who shot a 68 in his seventh competitive round since returning from the back surgery he underwent in March.
Woods, who has won eight times here at Firestone, made six birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey and if he maintains this form will surely persuade Watson to pick him as a wild card.
Woods is down in 70th place in the standings and, despite missing the cut and finishing 69th at the Open, he announced on Wednesday his intent “to win this week and next week”. That comment did not seem quite so daft on Thursday night.
Rory McIlroy shot a 69 on a commendable first outing since winning the Open at Hoylake 12 days ago.