You went to Augusta as World No. 1, having won three straight Tour starts. But after slipping on stairs during tournament week, you had to withdraw. How’s your back?
It’s still a little bit bruised. But today I hit balls, and everything was pretty good. It’s a little tight, but I can swing just fine. I would say it’s about 90 percent [as of mid-April]. I hit balls all the way through driver and I was fine, so that was reassuring.
Was it difficult watching the Masters when you were the big favorite to win? That must have been painful.
Well, I was lying on the couch or in bed, so I really couldn’t do anything else. I watched, but I didn’t like watching. That’s one thing I don’t want to do anymore.
You’ll be defending your U.S. Open title at Erin Hills. After you won at Oakmont, your brother Austin—who caddies for you—said that you didn’t know where you stood on Sunday until you were putting to close it out on the 72nd hole. True?
Yeah. I knew I was leading. I just didn’t know [by] how many. But I could tell from the energy of the crowd, the way they were cheering, that I had the lead. So I pretty much knew where I stood. But it’s the U.S. Open, and I knew I needed to play well on the back nine.
Still, you didn’t want to know exactly how you stood. Do you watch scoreboards in most events?
Yeah, I look at them. But playing a tough course like that, I knew at the turn that I was either tied or was right at the lead. It wasn’t like I had no clue where I needed to be. Where you are changes how you play, and I was just trying to stay focused on the task, which on that course is figuring out how to make par.
A year later, what moment from Oakmont makes you most proud?
The way I played the 18th hole. No. 18 is a very tough hole. You’ve absolutely got to hit the fairway, first and foremost, and I hit a great drive right in the middle of the fairway. And then [I hit] an unbelievable 6-iron into that pin sitting up there on a little shelf—hit it to about three feet. And Lee [Westwood] came up to me and said, “Congratulations.” And I was like, “For what?” He said, “You won.”
You and your brother Austin are very close. What are your on-course dynamics like? Do you needle each other?
Maybe a little. We’re pretty much all business when we’re on the course. But yeah, we joke around and like to have a good time, too. It’s more me needling him than the other way around.
Hey, you’re the boss, after all. When do you like to tease him on the course?
When he has trouble adding up the [yardage] numbers. Sometimes he adds instead of subtracts, and vice versa. So I won’t even be looking at my yardage book, and I can tell he did it wrong. [Laughs] It’s fun, though. We try to keep it light and have a good time out there.
Your chemistry must be working, given your success over the past year.
Austin being on my bag is a big part of that success. Getting to share all this with my brother is very special.
You have a major under your belt, so some pressure must have lifted. How are you feeling about the rest of the major venues in 2017—Erin Hills, Royal Birkdale and the PGA at Quail Hollow?
I’ve never played Erin Hills, so I don’t know about the golf course. But I hear it’s really good and I’ll like it. Hopefully that’s the case. But I mean, anything can happen—you just never know. I feel like my game’s in very good form right now. All I can do is go and play my best. I’m excited to play all the tournaments coming up.
You reached No. 1 back in February. How does that compare to winning a major?
They’re both great, but winning any golf tournament—there’s something very, very special about that. Getting to No. 1 obviously is very special too, because it means you’ve played a whole lot of good golf for a long period to get there. But a major is the hardest tournament to win. Every week I play, my goal is to just give myself a chance to win on Sunday.
You and your fiancée, Paulina Gretzky, are expecting your second child—a baby brother for Tatum. Two boys! Do you see your kids as being a couple of golf-buddy brothers, like you and Austin? How could they not be?
We’ll see. I sure hope [they’ll grow up to be golfers], but they’ll be able to play whatever sport they want. They’ll be pretty close in age. So hopefully they’ll be best buddies, just like me and my brother.
ONE THING I KNOW FOR SURE
THE GREAT ONE IS A GREAT ROLE MODEL
The most important thing I’ve learned from Wayne [Gretzky, father of DJ’s fiancée, Paulina] is just how cool he is. How he carries himself. And how he treats other people so great, [given] who he is. It’s awesome to watch. Being around him is very special.