‘I barely ate anything’: Dustin Johnson recalls his unexpected nerves during 2020 Masters
Dustin Johnson and his famously placid demeanor rarely give out much about the state of his mind during a golf tournament. He and the many people in his camp gladly repeat how even-keeled he tries to be, regardless of the significance of the moment. But rest assured, when he woke up on Sunday of the 2020 Masters, DJ was a bit skittish.
He slept well that Saturday night, but the weight of the day had begun to set in not long after waking.
“I had come down to have some coffee and my breakfast, and I had a really hard time eating my breakfast,” Johnson said with a laugh. Breakfast for the best player in the world is normally a sizable omelet, a hefty bowl of oatmeal and some fruit. But on Masters Sunday, it was just a couple bites of each. “I barely ate anything.”
Johnson tends to keep things low-key during tournament weeks, spending time with his sons when he’s away from the golf course, not watching much golf on TV. But on Sunday morning holding a 4-shot lead, if there’s no breakfast to be eaten, what else is there to do but head to the course? That’s exactly what DJ did, except he traipsed out the house without grabbing the mid-day snacks his personal chef had prepared. (Chef Michael Parks made a special trip to get the almond butter and jelly sandwiches to ANGC, as he discussed on a recent podcast.)
“I was really nervous, too, on the first tee.” Johnson said. “Obviously I’ve got the (54-hole) lead in the Masters for the first time. I mean, I was feelin’ it.” With only members and their guests on-site, just a couple dozen patrons watched as he smoothed a 3-wood into the fairway. After two-putting for par, DJ settled himself down.
But it wasn’t long before Johnson’s 4-shot lead had been trimmed to just one over Sungjae Im. Johnson had bogeyed both 4 and 5. “It still didn’t rattle me because on 4 I felt like a made a good swing, just caught it a little high on the face. Came up a little short,” Johnson said. “Probably should have chipped that ball, but after the chip I hit on 2 …”
Johnson had paused for a second to chuckle about that chip on 2. After short-siding himself on the par-5, he chunked his chip into a greenside bunker. Then on 3, his short chip skidded 10 feet beyond the hole. He looked at his caddie brother confused. Understandably, he put the wedge away on 4 and putted from off the green, lipping out the par-saver. Golf Twitter was abuzz with the idea of another Masters meltdown.
But DJ didn’t crack. He stuck his approach on the 6th green inside 10 feet and made birdie to reclaim a 3-shot lead. He glanced at the scoreboard and told himself, “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to play as good as I can play from here to the house, and see what happens.”
Calming as that mindset may have been, his body still wasn’t ready for food. While walking down the 7th fairway, Johnson grabbed one of those almond butter jelly sandwiches. “I took one bite and couldn’t even swallow it. My mouth was so dry. I had to chug water just to get a little bit of it down. I didn’t even try to eat anything after that.”
That scoreboard on 6 was the last time Johnson looked at the leaderboard all day, and his bogey on 5 was the last bogey he’d make during the 2020 Masters. What followed was the capstone of one of the best ballstriking performances Augusta National has ever seen. Birdies on 8, 13, 14 and 15 pushed him further clear of the pack. He claims he had no idea where he stood in relation to the rest of the field, not until he was walking up 18 and Austin Johnson confirmed a 5-shot lead, to which DJ responded, “Alright, I think I can get it in from here.”
He got it in with two easy putts for par, claiming his first green jacket, second major victory and a reservation for the champions dinner later that evening. Either the food wasn’t too memorable or it’s faded from priority for Johnson, much like his other meals that day.
“I don’t even know if I ate. I can’t remember. I know I had a few cocktails,” he said with a smile.