Long-hitting Dustin Johnson, an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour, said in a statement Thursday that he is taking an immediate leave of absence from competitive golf to “seek professional help for personal challenges.” The PGA of America said it was informed that Johnson would be unable to play in the Sept. 26-28 Ryder Cup.
The world’s 16th-ranked player, who withdrew from the WGC-Bridgestone Championship earlier this week, said “by committing the time and resources necessary to improve my mental health, physical well-being and emotional foundation, I am confident that I will be better equipped to fulfill my potential and become a consistent champion.”
He asked fans and news media for “privacy as I embark upon this mission of self-improvement.”
According to a report on Friday afternoon from golf.com, sources have revealed that Johnson was suspended for a third failed drug test – once due to marijuana and twice because of cocaine use.
Late Friday, the PGA Tour responded to the report, denouncing it:
“With regard to media reports that Dustin Johnson has been suspended by the PGA Tour, this is to clarify that Mr. Johnson has taken voluntary leave of absence and is not under a suspension from the PGA Tour.”
Johnson’s departure is a blow to the underdog U.S. Ryder Cup team. His leave is believed to be a long-term project (months rather than weeks) and thus won’t allow him to return in time for the matches against Europe in Gleneagles, Scotland.
He ranks fifth in points and was a lock to make the team. The top nine in points through next week’s PGA Championship will qualify, and captain Tom Watson will make three picks to fill out the 12-man roster. Without Johnson, the 10th person on the points list will make the team. Patrick Reed, a three-time winner over the past year, is 10th, but the standings could change dramatically at the PGA.
“We will certainly miss Dustin Johnson at Gleneagles, and we wish him the best,” Watson said in a statement. “As one of the longest hitters in the game with an undefeated record of 3-0 at Medinah in 2012, he has clearly been an asset for the United States team. That said, the United States is a team with an abundance of talent. I am looking forward to teeing it up alongside those players in the PGA Championship at Valhalla, and finding out along with everyone else, which players qualify for the team based on points.”
Johnson’s departure comes six days after he missed the cut at the RBC Canadian Open and less than two weeks after he tied for 12th at the British Open, where he fell back on the final day.
Johnson has several top finishes on Tour this season and ranks fourth in FedEx Cup points. He won the WGC-HSBC Champions last October and finished second at the Northern Trust Open and tied for fourth in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, N.C.
Johnson also took a break from the Tour in 2012, not playing from March 11 to May 31.
Apparently he plans to spend plenty of time with fiancee Paulina Gretzky during the sabbatical. She posted an Instagram photo Monday of her putting and Johnson lining up the putt while crouched behind her. Her caption read, “Best caddy ever.”
In a statement, the PGA Tour said, “We have nothing to add to Dustin’s statement, but we wish him well and look forward to his return to the PGA Tour in the future.”
Associated Press reported that Jerry Kelly gets into the PGA Championship as a result of Johnson’s leave.
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Here is Johnson’s complete statement, sent via email to media by David Winkle of Hambric Sports Management:
“I am taking a leave of absence from professional golf, effective immediately. I will use this time to seek professional help for personal challenges I have faced. By committing the time and resources necessary to improve my mental health, physical well-being and emotional foundation, I am confident that I will be better equipped to fulfill my potential and become a consistent champion.
I respectfully ask my fans, well-wishers and the media for privacy as I embark upon this mission of self-improvement.”