PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Dustin Johnson will be teeing off Thursday in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am a healthy and happy man.
He doesn’t have to deal with the flu that caused him to withdraw from the Sony Open in Hawaii last month or the food poisoning that he had to work through the weekend of the Farmers Insurance Open two weeks ago, when he tied for 51st.
Instead, Johnson is drawing on positive vibes from his two previous wins in this event in 2009 and ’10 and the unique opportunity to play competitively with his new girlfriend Paulina’s father, a certain hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, as a pro-am partner.
Johnson’s recent relationship with the 24-year-old model and singer is adding a fun element to his travel. She has recently been with him in Hawaii and Las Vegas.
“It’s great,” Johnson said. “I’m really happy. She’s coming up this week. Obviously I’m playing with her dad so we’ll have a lot of fun. We’re all staying at the same house so we’ll have a good old time.”
A good old time is usually the case for most who take in the Monterey Peninsula and the pro-am on scenic Pebble Beach Golf Links that perennially boasts the likes of entertainers and celebrities Bill Murray, Kenny G, Tony Romo and Bill Belichick, to name a few.
After a rough last two tournaments, the Pebble Beach pro-am could not come at a better time in Johnson’s schedule.
“The golf courses out here are just so good and fun to play,” Johnson said. “It’s beautiful. I just enjoy playing this event. I always like playing golf out here.”
The Coastal Carolina alum and former Myrtle Beach resident is already off to a fast start this year, having won the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, and continues a portion of the tour’s schedule that he enjoys and has traditionally played well.
Johnson had three consecutive top-10 finishes beginning with Pebble Beach last year before an injury curtailed his season for three months, and he has seven top-five finishes since 2009 during the West Coast Swing through February.
“It’s completely different from where I grew up,” the Columbia native said. “I played Cypress [Point] on Tuesday, it’s just a gorgeous golf course. I just enjoy playing golf out here.”
Following Pebble Beach, Johnson will play next week in the Northern Trust Open at historic Riviera Country Club and the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships at Dove Mountain in Arizona the following week before he heads to Doral to start his “Florida Swing” at the WGC-Cadillac Championship from March 7-10.
Johnson plans to get at least one tune-up before the April 11-14 Masters Tournament, likely at the March 28-31 Shell Houston Open, where the green conditions and speeds are set up to closely emulate those at Augusta National Golf Club.
Johnson will tee off Thursday at 9:06 a.m. (12:06 p.m. EST) with Gretzky, Pat Perez and Michael Lund at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, which along with Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill comprise the three course rotation put into play this week.
In addition to Johnson’s two wins on the Monterey Peninsula, he tied for fifth last year and tied for seventh in his rookie year on tour in 2008, and also won the pro-am portion of the tournament with partner Joe Rice in 2009.
Rice, a prominent attorney who lives in the Charleston area, has been Johnson’s partner in the event each year but is being replaced this week by The Great One, who carries an 11 handicap.
“Other than the first week of the year I haven’t had a full week where I’ve felt really well, so I’m looking forward to playing this and obviously I’ve got great memories here,” Johnson said.
The Sun News golf writer Alan Blondin contributed to this report.