It was the moment the poker face slipped and raw emotion seeped in.
Dustin Johnson, standing on the Augusta National green, trying to put his feat into words, realized the enormity of what had just happened and the usually immobile American found himself holding back his tears.
A few minutes earlier, Tiger Woods had slipped the Green Jacket on the broad shoulders of the world number one after winning his first Masters title in record fashion.
It was still at the top of the 36-year-old’s personal checklist, the major he dreamed of winning growing up an hour’s drive in Columbia, South Carolina.
“It moved me and I have known him forever,” Johnson coach Joey Diovisalvi told BBC Sport. “I was very emotionally compromised to see him show this side of vulnerability.
“It humanized him, because everyone thinks he’s got no emotion, he’s so stoic on the golf course but he’s not. He’s just very calm, he’s in control. “
Johnson, with his brother Austin on his bag and his family all sharing a home for the week, looked completely in control of the outcome from the moment he joked that Masters sandwiches were his favorite Augusta tradition.
“There was a feeling of calm. He was just on this very controlled path every day to figure out where his game was,” says Diovisalvi, who also stayed with him.
“Normally it’s a little tentative, it’s a little tense. I watched him on a completely different level, it was almost like he wasn’t playing the same course as everyone else.”
Johnson, a sports management specialist from Coastal Carolina University who turned pro in 2007 and won his first PGA Tour event the following year, has always had the potential to be one of the most talented players. Game.
But, until five months ago, his only major title was the 2016 US Open, which was clinched after failing to get out of goal despite a 54-hole lead on four occasions.
There were excruciating hiccups at the US Open and US PGA Championship in 2010, at the Open in 2011, and then, after a year of seeking professional help with “personal challenges,” a three putt on 18th at the 2015 US Open which handed Jordan Spieth the title.
Diovisalvi observed growing maturity in Johnson and this was embodied in his Masters five-stroke triumph.
“Maturity played a huge role and I really admire that, as I’ve watched it grow from boy to man to adult man,” says biomechanics expert, whose job it is to prepare the body by Johnson for optimal performance.
“He’s not as affected by what other players are affected by after all. That’s the difference, you see him continue to be very confident in what he does, he stays in his lane a bit.
“His communication is good, his ability to understand where he is in his body and his golf swing and his mind is quite solid. He has a lot of balance in his personal life with the boys and Paulina.”
In an interview with BBC Sport, Johnson explained how his state of mind doesn’t change, whether he’s had a good or a bad turn.
“If there’s something that I feel I didn’t do particularly well that day, I’ll go to the booth and try to fix it,” he says. “But I’m not going to be angry or upset and when I’ve played really well, I don’t jump in the locker room either.
“It’s golf, you know, you’re going to play well and you’re going to play badly. It’s dealing with the days when you don’t have the best.”
Johnson’s coach Claude Harmon III recently told Golf Digest that the player’s attitude is the best in the game and that aside from Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods “you can argue that he has the best spirit in the game. the history of golf “.
This mental resilience is complemented by Johnson’s physical presence, something that has also evolved as his body has matured.
“He’s not someone who physically backs down at 36. He’s going to be a specimen like Vijay Singh was in his forties, because he has that athleticism and that ability,” Diovisalvi says.
“He’s just a naturally gifted athlete, better, stronger and faster than most golfers – it’s just the fact, it’s just his DNA.”
‘He loves talking about trash with MJ’
Johnson finds himself in an environment where he has athletes who have defined their respective sports to bounce back, including stepfather and ice hockey icon Wayne Gretzky.
A day before our conversation with Diovisalvi, speaking from his establishment in Jupiter, Fla., Johnson was golfing with Michael Jordan at NBA legend’s exclusive bespoke course, The Grove XXIII.
“Dustin appreciates that MJ is someone who has created this environment where they can just wear their golf shorts and t-shirts and go golfing – there’s no formalities there,” says Diovisalvi.
“They love to talk about trash and have their games and I think that actually gives Dustin a more confident edge when it comes to tournaments.
“When you have these great athletes – they can be great in different arenas – but they come together on the golf course and they have a lot of opportunities to talk to each other.
“I think Dustin takes those little bits and then puts them in his head. He’s confident to an extent that he doesn’t come out arrogantly on a golf course, but he’ll always be someone who can play and maybe put another ‘W’ in that column. I think he’ll play until he can’t do that anymore. “
Johnson admits there is only a small, tight-knit group of people he trusts for advice.
“I don’t ask for anyone’s opinion and I don’t listen, apart from my team,” he explains. “I have a great team with Joey D, Claude, so if they offer me any advice, yes I’ll listen but anyone else – don’t ask and don’t listen.”
Breakfast sandwiches and sharing success
Only Woods and Greg Norman have spent more of Johnson’s 121 weeks as world number one. In his late 30s, he knows what works for him.
Johnson started looking at his stats a few years ago and decided he needed to work on his game from within 150 yards. He now spends 90% of his practice time on his holds and putting.
He also understands the role of sport science and Diovisalvi is proud to see his charge convert the work they do together into performance on the course.
“You see he can play golf differently than he did when he started out, because he has this ability to understand the physicality of the game and how it has changed,” he says.
“He does it with a lot of confidence and I’ve watched that change for a decade, it’s pretty impressive. He’s ready to keep on giving and giving.”
Everything the American does is based on a sense of humility and sincerity.
“Dustin never verified who he was as a human being,” adds Diovisalvi. “As a golfer he’s Dustin Johnson, but as a person he’s always the same guy who calls you up and says’ what kind of breakfast sandwich do you want? “.
“Dustin is always someone who wants to sit around the table and talk about everyday life, like ‘when are we going to go fishing? “.
“The night we had the post-Masters celebration it was pretty intimate, he made it very clear how much it meant to him. He’s so humble he was ready to say ‘I couldn’t do this without you guys’ and put us in a place where we all shared the moment with him. “