The Masters 2021: Dustin Johnson seeking repeat

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Dustin Johnson’s grandfather was a baller, a good one. Art Whisnant was a three-time all-ACC basketball player at South Carolina and a 1962 Lakers draft choice who decided the NBA life was not going to be for him.

At least the NBA life in Los Angeles.

“I hated LA with a passion,” Whisnant said in a 2017 phone interview.

Long after a foot infection compromised his grandest athletic ambitions, Whisnant informed one of his three daughters, Kandee, that he was going to shape her two boys, Dustin and Austin, into serious athletes. He coached Austin’s AAU basketball team, traveling all over to face the best competition. And he studied Dustin’s golf swing as the boy hit one ball after another into Lake Murray from Whisnant’s South Carolina backyard.

“He was always a big part of both of our lives, just with sports,” Johnson, the defending Masters champion, said Tuesday at Augusta National, three weeks after his grandfather died at age 80. “He was a huge sports fan, didn’t matter what sport it was. He thought he knew how to play it and he was good at it, that’s for sure, even with golf. Even though I don’t think he ever even hit a golf ball, he would still try to tell me how to play. That’s just how he was.”

Johnson said he would miss his grandfather. Left unsaid was the fact that Johnson gave Whisnant an incredible gift in the final months of his life — a record-setting performance in November that will go down among the most significant Masters in tournament history.

Dustin Johnson of the United States looks over a putt
Dustin Johnson looks to become the fourth man to win back-to-back Masters.
Getty Images

After the pandemic delayed the Masters by seven months, Johnson set the scoring record at 20-under 268, winning by five strokes while bringing Augusta National to its knees with his trademark power and touch. He hasn’t won in five starts since, and frankly, nobody’s going to give a damn about that if he seizes his third major title and becomes only the fourth man — joining Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, and Tiger Woods — to win back-to-back green jackets.

Not to mention the first man to win back-to-back green jackets in a five-month period.

How would DJ assess his game two days before kickoff in golf’s Super Bowl?

“It’s in good shape,” he said. “Maybe not quite as good of shape as it was in November, but I feel like it’s coming together. I’m starting to hit a lot of the same shots and getting more comfortable over the golf ball.”

The course is expected to be a firm, fast, and furious test for the world’s finest golfers, at least until the forecasted rain arrives in the middle of the tournament. The conditions could conspire with the usual suffocating Masters pressure to break some players in half, and to remind everyone why only Nicklaus, Faldo, and Woods were able to pull off a two-peat.

“It’s a tough tournament to win,” Johnson said. “You’re going to have to put four rounds together, especially with the conditions. You’ve got to do everything well. … It’s just very tough to win once, and especially multiple times.

“I’ve won the Masters, so there’s no pressure on trying to win the golf tournament. But still, I want to go out and I’m defending champ, so I want to go out and put myself in a position where I’ve got a chance to defend my title come the back nine on Sunday.”

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