Speculation grows on reason behind Dustin Johnson’s break

Pressure increases on PGA of America to clarify if American star’s indefinite departure is voluntary

Dustin Johnson has  announced  he is to take a break from golf and seek “professional help for personal challenges”. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

Dustin Johnson has announced he is to take a break from golf and seek “professional help for personal challenges”. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 12:26

Dustin Johnson, who won his first start of the US PGA Tour’s wraparound season and was poised to compete for the United States in the Ryder Cup, is out of the game for the foreseeable future.

In a statement released on Thursday by his management company, Johnson said he was taking a leave of absence from professional golf “to seek professional help for personal challenges I have faced.”

Johnson, 30, withdrew earlier in the week from the World Golf Championships at Firestone Country Club. His agent, David Winkle of Dallas-based Hambric Sports Management, informed Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America, that Johnson will not participate in next week’s US PGA Championship, the year’s final Major, or the Ryder Cup in Gleneagles, Scotland.

With two events remaining until the top nine spots are finalised for the Ryder Cup, Johnson was fifth in the points standings. In his absence, Patrick Reed, who is 10th, will now occupy the final spot. Before Johnson’s statement was released, Reed carded a 3-under-par 67 in the opening round of the Bridgestone Invitational.

Without divulging the root of his distress, Johnson, an eight-time US PGA Tour winner, said, “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 fulfill my potential and become a consistent champion.”

It is the second time in three years that Johnson has been off the tour for an extended length of time. He missed nearly three months in the spring of 2012, ascribing his absence to a back injury.

“I knew he withdrew this week, but definitely shocked,” said Rickie Fowler, who described Johnson as one of his best friends on the tour.

“I haven’t been in touch with him,” Fowler added. “So hopefully, he can get everything straightened out.”

Did a broken engagement with his fiancée, Paulina Gretzky, precipitate his latest leave? Is Johnson‘s indefinite departure voluntary, or was he suspended by the PGA Tour? Because the tour does not make fines or suspensions public, speculation filled the information vacuum.

“We have nothing to add to Dustin‘s statement,” the tour said in a news release, “but we wish him well and look forward to his return to the US PGA Tour in the future.”

Justin Rose believes Johnson’s absence from the Ryder Cup will hamper the United States as they look to regain the trophy at Gleneagles.

Johnson won all three of his matches in a losing cause at Medinah in 2012 and Rose – who partnered Martin Kaymer to a 3&2 defeat against Johnson and Matt Kuchar in the Friday fourballs – said: “He’s not going to play Ryder Cup. That will be a blow for the American team.

“I just wish him well, whatever he’s facing right now. Can’t be easy for him. I wish him all the best. He’s a friend of mine (but I) didn’t really know that that was on the cards.”

Ryder Cup team-mate Zach Johnson admitted he was also shocked to hear the news, which his namesake had pulled out of earlier this week for personal reasons.

“I think it’s extremely unfortunate,” former Masters champion Johnson said. “I feel for him. I feel for his family. I feel for his team, those that are associated with him, because they’ve done a lot of good work this year.

“More than anything, I pray that his well-being will be on the mend. If anything, I just hope this is the start of something really, really positive. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what the specifics are, nor should I know, that’s none of my business.

“I want him on the Ryder Cup team but that’s my selfish side coming out. It really stinks (he will not play). 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 don’t want to say he has an intimidation factor, but to some individuals he might in the sense that he can overpower courses.”

Tiger Woods added: “I’ll tell you what, with his power, you always want guys with that kind of power to play on any team. I’ve been his partner in the Presidents Cup in Australia, and the fire power that he has, it’s pretty cool to be around.

“It’s not too often you see a guy carry the ball 320 (yards) without even trying, and then when he steps on it he can hit it even further. When he gets it going, it’s awfully impressive.”

(New York Times Service and agencies)

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