D. Johnson on Paulina, drug-related accusations

By Jason SobelDecember 4, 2013, 6:38 pm

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – This week’s Northwestern Mutual World Challenge is a home game for Dustin Johnson. Well, sort of.

Johnson is staying this week at the family house of his fiancée, Paulina – and yes, that would be the house of the Gretzky family, just around the block in the neighborhood of Sherwood Country Club.

The eight-time PGA Tour champion took a few minutes Wednesday to answer questions about the spotlight on their relationship, his new caddie and being named in connection with another player’s lawsuit.

Q: It’s been a whirlwind year for you. Start one season with a win in Hawaii, start the next season with a win in China in the same year. You got engaged in between. That’s a busy year.

A: It has been a busy year, but it’s been a good one. Obviously, two wins is good, but between those I had times when I played really well and had some times where I didn’t play so well. I definitely would like to be a little more consistent and contend a little more.

Q: So that’s not the plan, just win your first start every year and put things in cruise control?

A: Well, that helps. Yeah, of course I want to win my first start every year. But after that, I want to continue.

Q: After you won at Kapalua, I asked you about Paulina and you just smiled and said, “I don’t know who you’re talking about.” At what point did you two decide that you would go public with your relationship?

A: We were just getting started then. We had just started dating, so it was just one of those things where it was Kapalua, I had just won and we were still trying to figure things out. But obviously now things are going really well. We’re really happy.

Q: I don’t mean to get all TMZ on you, but there’s a bigger spotlight now than just what you’ve had between the ropes. You’ve got Justin Timberlake gesturing to you at the AMAs; you’ve got Instagram photos making worldwide headlines. What’s that like?

A: I’m used to it more with golf, not off the course stuff. But it’s fine; I don’t mind it.

Q: Does it take some getting used to?

A: No, it’s a little different, but it’s nothing bad.

Q: What’s it like having the greatest hockey player of all-time as a future father-in-law?

A: Oh, it’s great. He’s awesome. He’s such a great guy and I’ve learned a lot just watching him. He’s the greatest hockey player to ever play and just to see someone who’s at that level and be around him and see how he conducts himself and interacts with people, he’s just the best. Couldn’t be a nicer guy, couldn’t be more supportive. It’s been great. And they just couldn’t be a better family – all of them. Janet is great; Trevor, Ty, Tristan, Emma, I’m really close with all of them.

Q: There’s not too much hockey in Myrtle Beach. Are you becoming a hockey guy?

A: I’m starting to get there. It’s on TV a lot at the house. We go to some games. I really love going to games. I enjoy going to a game and watching it live. You know, I’m still not a huge fan of watching it on TV. I’ll watch games; I mean, they’re exciting.  But going to games, for me, it’s like baseball. I don’t really like watching baseball on TV, but going to a baseball game, I enjoy that.

Q: Speaking of family, you’ve got a new caddie.

A: My brother [Austin], yeah. He’s going to be working for me now, so it’s going to be good. He caddied for me in Australia and China.

Q: What happened with [previous caddie] Bobby Brown?

A: Nothing. Bobby is great. We did really well together for a long time. Nothing happened, I just like having my little brother out here with me. Obviously, he’s new, so he’s got a lot to learn, but I just really enjoy having him on the bag and having him with me. But Bobby’s been great. We had a really good run. But it’s more about having my brother with me.

Q: This isn’t the smoothest segue, but Vijay Singh’s lawyer recently mentioned your name in connection with those who have had an “actual or possible violation” of the PGA Tour’s anti-doping policy. What was your response to that?

A: There’s nothing I can really say. I don’t know why he would call me out. Obviously, he’s in a situation where he’s looking to better himself somehow, but there’s nothing there.

Q: Have you ever been punished or reprimanded for any kind of violation?

A: No.

Q: Does it anger you to see your name in connection with that story?

A: Not really. I don’t care. He’s in trouble, not me.

Q: Would you consider any type of legal action for your name being used?

A: No. I’m out of it. Don’t want anything to do with it. I don’t care.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”