DJ's past in spotlight with reported suspension

By Jason SobelAugust 1, 2014, 10:45 pm

AKRON, Ohio – When one caddie here at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational received news of Dustin Johnson’s purported self-imposed leave of absence for the remainder of the PGA Tour season, he crowed, “What, did he hurt himself lifting another Jet Ski?”

That response was a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to Johnson missing three months of the 2012 season, which he explained away at the time as a back injury after that theoretical dockside incident.

It underscores a bigger relative story.

Amongst golf’s inner circle, Johnson’s transgressions are hardly secretive.

Now those outside of that circle are learning this, too.

A report from on Friday cited an unnamed source with the news that Johnson’s latest leave of absence is not self-imposed, but a six-month suspension from the PGA Tour after a positive test for cocaine – the third positive drug test he’s sustained since turning professional.

According to the report, Johnson’s first strike occurred in 2009, when he wasn’t penalized with a suspension; his second in 2012, covered up by the Jet Ski tale; and a third that came to fruition this week, ostensibly keeping him out of action until late-January of next year.

Hours after it was released, the PGA Tour issued a statement denying the initial report. “This is to clarify,” it read, “that Mr. Johnson has taken a voluntary leave of absence and is not under a suspension from the PGA Tour.”

Suspension or not, it’s clear that he is undergoing “personal struggles,” as his management team termed it in a statement.

It should hardly come as a surprise that Johnson has denied all previous violations. When I asked him in December if he’d ever been punished or reprimanded by the PGA Tour, he said flatly, “No.”

The latest news may have been nothing more than an inevitability, as Johnson’s timeline of personal behavior pointed toward a downward spiral since his Myrtle Beach, S.C., formative years.

Report: Johnson suspended six months for third failed drug test

PGA Tour: D. Johnson 'not under a suspension'

When he was 16, according to a report from 2011, Johnson was coerced by a friend’s older brother into buying bullets for a gun that had been stolen in a robbery. That man later used it in a murder and while Johnson was pardoned, the incident still left an imprint.

“I sat down with myself afterward, looked in the mirror and realized, ‘This is not who I am, not what I want to be,’” he told the website. “I wanted to go to college. I wanted to play golf. It was an easy decision, getting back on the right path. I didn't want to throw all this good stuff away.”

In 2009, his second full season on the PGA Tour, Johnson was arrested for driving under the influence. A dashboard video from the arresting officer’s patrol car shows Johnson unable to walk a straight line or listen to the officer’s instructions.

Each of these incidents helps paint a picture of a profoundly talented young golfer who has clearly led a troubled past.

In fact, it can be argued that the only thing more surprising than Johnson’s checkered history is that throughout all of it he has remained one of the PGA Tour’s brightest young stars, winning at least one event in every season since becoming a full-time member in 2008.

Other recent examples show that Johnson is golf’s answer to Teflon.

At last year’s season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he was followed around by social media starlet and notorious socialite Paulina Gretzky, daughter of former hockey star Wayne Gretzky. Proving the buzz surrounding their relationship wasn’t a distraction, he denied even knowing her while going on to win the tournament.

Later in the year, Johnson fired longtime caddie Bobby Brown, replacing him with his brother, Austin, who had limited previous experience caddying at the professional level. In his second event on the bag, Johnson prevailed at the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in China.

Through it all, the eight career victories and the nearly $25 million in total earnings, Johnson has put himself through a maelstrom of these “personal struggles.”

As other players at this week’s PGA Tour event are asked about their troubled peer, they will use words like worried, saddened and hopeful.

The one word, though, that we won’t hear anyone in golf’s inner circle use to describe this latest surrounding Johnson? Surprised.

Getty Images

Expired visa, helicopter, odd clubs all part of Vegas' journey

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 3:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jhonattan Vegas thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.

Or maybe he was stuck in the middle of a horror movie.

Scheduled to leave for The Open a week ago, he didn’t arrive at Carnoustie until a little more than an hour before his first-round tee time Thursday.

“Even if somebody tried to do that on purpose,” he said, “you couldn’t really do it.”

The problem was an expired visa.

Vegas said that he must have gotten confused by the transposed date on the visa – “Guessing I’ve been living in America too long” – and assumed that he was cleared to travel.

No problem, he was told. He’d have a new visa in 24 hours.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Except the consulate in New York didn’t respond to his application the next day, keeping him in limbo through the weekend. Then, on Monday, he was told that he’d applied for the wrong visa. UPS got shut down in New York and his visa never left, so Vegas waited in vain for seven hours in front of the consulate in Houston. He finally secured his visa on Wednesday morning, boarded a flight from Houston to Toronto, and then flew to Glasgow, the final leg of a 14-hour journey.

His agent arranged a helicopter ride from Glasgow to Carnoustie to ensure that he could make his 10:31 a.m. (local) tee time.

One more issue? His clubs never made it. They were left back in Toronto.

His caddie, Ruben Yorio, scrambled to put together a new bag, with a mismatched set of woods, irons, wedges and putter.

“Luckily the (equipment) vans are still here,” Vegas said. “Otherwise I probably would have played with members’ clubs today.”

He hit about 20 balls on the range – “Luckily they were going forward” – but Carnoustie is one of the most challenging links in the world, and Vegas was working off of two hours’ sleep and without his own custom-built clubs. He shot 76 but, hey, at least he tried.

“It was fun,” he said, “even though the journey was frustrating.”

Getty Images

'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.

Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.

“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.

The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.

“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”

Getty Images

Perez: R&A does it right, 'not like the USGA'

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez didn’t even attempt to hide his frustration with the USGA at last month’s U.S. Open, and after an opening-round 69 at The Open, he took the opportunity to double down on his displeasure.

“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA,” Perez said of the setup at Carnoustie. “They've got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you've got the greens receptive. They're not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn't. The course is just set up perfect.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Concerns at Shinnecock Hills reached a crescendo on Saturday when the scoring average ballooned to 75.3 and only three players broke the par of 70. Of particular concern for many players, including Perez, were some of the hole locations, given how fast and firm the greens were.

“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”