AKRON, Ohio – Word of Dustin Johnson’s leave of absence spread quickly at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Johnson has a win and two runner-up finishes this season, but released a statement Thursday saying he will take an immediate and indefinite leave from the PGA Tour to “seek professional help for personal challenges.”
While players had either completed their opening round or were in the midst of play at Firestone Country Club when Johnson made his announcement, many weighed in on what his absence will mean as the Tour’s season draws to a close.
“Dustin and I are close, it’s tough to hear,” Jason Dufner said. “He’s the type of guy the Tour needs. He’s a guy’s guy. A lot of the guys love him out here.
“Hopefully he’ll get it together and do what he needs to do to get back out here and be successful.”
Rickie Fowler echoed Dufner’s sentiments, adding that he considers Johnson one of his “best friends” on Tour.
“I’m just hoping for all the best for him. I haven’t been in touch with him,” Fowler said. “We’ll miss him out here but hopefully get him back soon.”
While the reasons for Johnson’s absence remain unknown, one certainty is that the 30-year-old will now miss the Ryder Cup despite occupying one of the nine automatic qualifying spots in the U.S. standings.
Johnson was a part of the American Ryder Cup squad in 2010 and 2012, and he was the only American to go undefeated two years ago at Medinah, compiling a 3-0-0 record.
The news that Johnson won’t be among the contingent traveling to Gleneagles came as a shock to Jim Furyk, who clinched his spot on the team earlier this month.
“Is that right? Oh, wow. That’s a quick slap in the face,” Furyk said after an opening-round 69. “Yeah, that’s a big loss. He’s one of our horses, one of our best players, and a guy that’s having a really good year. He’s been solid on that team for a long time.”
Johnson’s absence means that the 10th-place finisher will now qualify automatically for the U.S. squad when the points race ends after next week’s PGA Championship. That’s a welcome development for Zach Johnson, who entered this week on the bubble in the No. 9 spot. But the former Masters champ was only able to focus on the negatives associated with Johnson’s departure from the team.
“It stinks. It really, really stinks,” he said. “When he’s playing good, he’s got the game that it frankly doesn’t matter what kind of golf course it is, he can do well. I also think he has – I don’t want to say he has an intimidation factor, but to some individuals he might in the sense that he can overpower courses.”
Reigning Masters champ Bubba Watson currently tops the U.S. points list, and offered a succinct assessment of the situation after his opening round.
“You know, it’s sad,” Watson said. “It’s sad when you lose a talent like that.”