Dustin Johnson hasn’t played a shot in competition since he announced a six-month leave of absence on July 31, vowing to address “personal challenges” after running afoul of the Tour for what Golf.com would reveal was his third failed drug test.
Still, the eight-time winner Johnson, 30, continues to make news.
On Monday, as players made their way to China’s Sheshan International Golf Club for the WGC-HSBC Champions — a title Johnson won by three last year but will not defend this week — social media was abuzz with the fact that Johnson had somehow moved from 17th to 15th in the World Ranking despite his continuing leave of absence.
“The less you play the better,” tweeted player and Golf Channel commentator Steve Flesch. “Same old fight.”
Playing only through July, Johnson earned $4.25 million in 17 starts. After getting into contention at the British Open at Royal Liverpool, where he faded on the weekend to finish 12th, he skipped the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup — an early body blow for a U.S. side that would suffer a heavy defeat at Gleneagles. (Johnson was fifth in the U.S. points table when he announced his leave, and had gone 3-0-0 at the 2012 Cup.)
David Winkle, Johnson’s agent, laughed about the apparent contradiction of a player moving up the rankings by sitting on his couch — or in Johnson’s case, reportedly shooting a pair of 61s at L.A.’s Sherwood Country Club last week, and caddying in bare feet for his pregnant fiancé Paulina Gretzky in Northern Idaho last summer.
“Somebody pointed that [World Ranking oddity] out to me this morning,” Winkle told Golf.com. “It’s funny, this is my 28th year in the business and I still don’t understand how the World Ranking works.”
The amusing case of Johnson’s mysteriously ascendant ranking stood in stark contrast to last week’s grim report, which first broke on housingwire.com, that the long-hitting golfer has filed a lawsuit against three former “trusted advisors” in hopes of recovering what he described as a $3 million loan. Johnson’s suit alleges the money was used to cover failed investments and improper expenditures; the principals involved in the Georgia law firm of Morris Schneider Wittstadt have denied his claims.
Other than the suit, which Winkle called “unfortunate,” the agent says Johnson has done everything he planned to do when he cut short a promising 2014 season.
“I have a feeling when he comes back that ranking is going to go up even more,” Winkle said. “He’s worked hard. I think he’s going to come back with a vengeance. His whole goal was to come back a better person and a better player, and I think he’s headed in that direction on both fronts. He had a plan and he stuck to it. I’m proud of him.”
When Johnson comes back is still up in the air. Although his self-described six-month leave of absence would put him back on Tour on Feb. 1, Winkle says Johnson plans to wait until after Paulina Gretzky gives birth to return to the Tour. Neither she nor Johnson has announced a due date, but Paulina appeared to be two or three months into her pregnancy when she posted a photo of herself on Instagram — to break the news that the couple was expecting — on Sept. 23. If that assumption is correct it would mean Johnson could return to action sometime during the Tour’s Florida swing in late March.
“He’s really excited about being a parent,” Winkle said.