AUGUSTA — UNTIL ABOUT 2 p.m. Friday, Dustin Johnson’s star-studded contingent here was having a fantastic time.
Johnson, a 28-year-old Columbia native, is the sixth-ranked golfer in the world and as famous for his relationship with Paulina Gretzky, a 24-year-old Canadian model who is the daughter of hockey great Wayne Gretzky. The Johnsons and the Gretzkys met for the first time this week at the Masters.
“It’s wonderful,” said Kandee Johnson, Dustin Johnson’s mother. “They are amazing people. They are so sweet and kind.”
Kandee “very much” approves of her son’s relationship, she said
“She is a sweet girl and beautiful,” she said. “She is very sweet with Dustin too, very attentive.”
Johnson needed some tending to Friday evening. He led the Masters at mid-afternoon after birdieing No. 13 to move to 7-under par, and he looked then like he might end the day with a sizable lead as the rest of the field struggled to put up solid scores.
Then came the collapse. It started innocently enough, with a bogey on No. 14 but quickly picked up speed when Johnson hit his third shot into the water from 70 yards at No. 15, leading to a double-bogey 7. A par at No. 16 slowed the bleeding but Johnson bogeyed No. 17 and double-bogeyed No. 18 to fall from a two-stroke lead to minus-1 in the span of 90 minutes.
He finished with a 76 and is 1-under for the tournament, five shots off Jason Day’s lead.
“I watched him, he maybe played the last five holes (6-over), and besides a chunk in the water, I mean, they weren’t — you know, they are not bad shots,” said Fred Couples, who played with Johnson and shot a 71. “You just make bogeys by missing a spot and three-putting or not getting up and down. But he’s a guy that could win this, and he kind of, you know, stepped on himself, and he’s going to have to burn it up tomorrow.”
Johnson declined to speak to the media following his round, saying he would return after eating. He did not return to the interview area for the next hour, and apparently never returned as the Masters staff did not provide a quote sheet.
Wayne Gretzky, who dominated hockey so thoroughly that he’s known simply as “The Great One,” followed Johnson throughout Friday’s round, and lauded Johnson’s ability to handle the pressures.
“Being a professional athlete, with that comes along the responsibility of dealing with fans and media and autographs and pictures, and I think he has the same attitude I have that that’s just part of it,” Gretzky said. “It doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t him, I know. You just go out and each and every day live your life to the best of your ability and treat people with respect and that’s what he does. That’s one of the big things we have in common.”
Wayne Gretzky knew Johnson before Johnson began dating his daughter, he said. The pair met three years ago at the World Challenge, a tournament sponsored by Tiger Woods at Sherwood Country Club, where Gretzky and wife Janet Jones Gretzky live.
“He’s a remarkable young man,” Gretzky said. “He’s extremely talented. My wife and I, we just pull for him. He’s a really, really good young man with a big heart. I, by no means, know anything about the game of golf. It’s just enjoyable to come out and watch him play, and it’s a pleasure just to watch him. He’s a special young player, and he’s a really good young man, and that’s just as important.”
Kandee Johnson spoke to The State as she accepted sympathetic pats on the backs from friends and family while her son putted out on the 18th green, but not even the afternoon crash could diminish her appreciation for what has been a big week in the Johnson household.
“It’s the most thrilling part of golf I have ever experienced,” she said. “We are lucky enough that we have it so close to home.”