As for Gulbis, Johnson told the AP, "Yes, me and Natalie have spent some time together, but we're not in a relationship. We're not dating."
Whether this was merely semantics or a substantive difference in the perception of their time together, Gulbis was upset about the comments—a member of her inner circle and more than one of her LPGA friends contacted me to register her displeasure.
Three days after the AP story came out, Johnson, as defending champ, winged in to Pebble Beach for a long-scheduled media day. I went to see him, hoping to smooth things over. He's a hip-hop fan, and in a quiet moment I invoked the prevailing patois, saying, "Sorry, I didn't mean to blow up your spot."
Johnson shrugged. "Hey, s--- happens," he said.
Moral of the story? If Johnson can get over Natalie Gulbis that easily, it really is conceivable that blowing a U.S. Open and a PGA Championship isn't that big a deal to him.
When Johnson was nearly five minutes late to his tee time at the Northern Trust Open, Brown, his caddie, took the blame, claiming he had gotten the time wrong. But Johnson didn't help himself when he admitted that he never reads the tee sheets. This echoed his comment at the PGA Championship, that he hadn't paid attention to the local-rules announcements taped all over the locker room reminding players that even the scruffiest sandy areas at Whistling Straits were to be played as hazards and thus clubs could not be grounded in them. Johnson has been criticized for a lack of attention to detail—an exasperated Kaymer tells SI, "You should be able to check your tee time by yourself"—but it is not sweating the small stuff that has gotten Johnson this far. There is an almost Zen-like simplicity to the way he approaches the game. "I'm hardly ever unsure of what shot I want to hit," says Johnson, who plays as fast as anyone on Tour. "I never think about percentages. Only two things can happen: I hit a good shot or I hit a bad shot. So what the f---?"
Many of his colleagues—forever bogged down by mechanical thoughts and haunted by the repercussions of every swing—profess admiration for Johnson's devil-may-care philosophy. Says Pat Perez, "I told Dustin, 'Don't try to get smart. Just do your thing and don't listen to anybody. Stay with your routine and do what you do because it's working.'"
With his manifest talent and effortless cool Johnson has drawn comparisons to Fred Couples, who may be the most popular player of the past quarter century. (There are also those who consider Couples a maddening underachiever.) But the elder statesman Johnson feels closest to is Mickelson. They met shortly after Johnson turned pro. He was in Carlsbad, Calif., being wooed by equipment manufacturers, and TaylorMade's Sbarbaro, a college teammate of Mickelson's, set up a game at the Bridges, Phil's home course.
"I got to warn you, Phil, he's pretty long," Sbarbaro said.
"We'll see about that," Mickelson woofed.