Dustin Johnson Image: James Cheadle

Dustin Johnson has the world at his feet - a bulging bank balance, a killer golf swing and a gorgeous girlfriend. The only thing that could make his world even better would be a Masters victory.

It’s time to strip away that veneer of calculated reserve. Just admit it. You want to be Dustin Johnson. You want to pull out that TaylorMade R1 driver with the 45-inch Fujikura Motore Fuel 2.0 X shaft, put that TaylorMade Penta TP5 ball in your crosshairs, launch it at a frightening 305 kilometres per hour (48 km/hr faster than the US PGA Tour average) and watch it fall to the earth 320 metres away.

You want to be able to dunk a basketball in your bare feet, throw a baseball 145 km/hr, launch your jet ski four metres in the air on a yacht wake, do a standing broad jump that puts you in the 93rd percentile among NBA players and do a three-cone agility drill that puts you in the 80th percentile among NFL skill-position players – things that inspire Keith Sbarbaro, TaylorMade’s vice president of PGA Tour operations, to call Johnson “the best athlete ever to play professional golf”.

You want to exude cool with the soul patch, the long sideburns, the ripped abs and the girl on your arm – especially if she’s model/actress/singer Paulina Gretzky, daughter of ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, or either of the drop-dead lookers who preceded her: Amanda Caulder and Natalie Gulbis.

You want to be coached by Butch Harmon, even though you know he could be really tough on you – such as when he chastised Johnson for his lethargic practice habits, saying: “Every other guy in the top-10 outworks him.”

You want the good life. Dustin Johnson’s life.

He knows he’s as fortunate as David Feherty is funny. And he claims that’s one of the primary reasons why he hasn’t gone ballistic when circumstances have gone south.

Like when Tiger Woods stole his caddie. In September 2011, after sacking Steve Williams, Tiger prowled into Johnson’s camp and scooped up Joe LaCava. It wasn’t like Johnson was a chump – he was the world No.5 golfer at the time, while Woods was still trying to resuscitate his life and career after a fire hydrant had the audacity to get in the way of his Escalade at 2:25am on November 27, 2009.

Harmon, who may or may not have had an axe to grind after being ditched by Tiger in 2002, ripped Tiger for not calling Johnson and asking if he could talk to LaCava, and said that although he was disappointed, he was “not surprised”.

Johnson’s reaction? No big deal.

Johnson exudes plenty of cool on and off the golf course. His easy-going nature has endeared him to fans and attractive women. He had a long relationship with Amanda Caulder (top) before going out with LPGA player Natalie Gulbis (middle). He is now linked with Paulina Gretzky (bottom), the daughter of ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. Image: Getty Images

“I spoke to Tiger about it,” he said at the time. “There’s no hard feelings at all. Joe got offered Tiger’s job, so he took it. I can’t blame the guy. He can do what he wants.”

More famous was Johnson’s reaction after being approached by rules official David Price on the 18th green at Whistling Straits seconds after putting out in the final round of the 2010 US PGA Championship. Asked if he had grounded his club in the bunker on his second shot, Johnson said he wasn’t sure. When they viewed it on video together, Johnson concluded he had grounded his club, and Price informed him that he had to claim a two-stroke penalty that would keep him out of a play-off with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

TV cameras showed Johnson in the scorer’s trailer, calmly turning his pencil upside down and erasing the bogey he had marked for the 18th hole. When he met the media in the clubhouse, he acted like he had just finished an hour of yoga. Never blamed officials. Or even questioned them. He didn’t realise he was even in a bunker – because it had been trampled by thousands of spectators who were surrounding him – but he said he had violated a rule. When one reporter suggested that the Wanamaker Trophy had been stolen from him, he said, “Maybe a little bit. But that’s how it goes.”

That’s how it goes?

Johnson plays his approach from a sandy lie to the 72nd green at the 2010 PGA Championship. right: Minutes later official David Price informs Johnson of his rules infraction and two-stroke penalty, costing him a spot in a play-off.

Johnson was already at the airport by the time Kaymer finished off Watson in the play-off. A few hours later, he was back at his waterfront home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where he was greeted by his sheepdog, Max, and some friends. They had dinner and drinks. He watched 15 minutes of coverage on the Golf Channel, turned it off, went to bed, got up the next morning and spent most of the day on his eight-metre Sea Pro boat, wakeboarding and draining some beers.

In the aftermath, Johnson’s e-mail and mobile phone were jammed with messages from friends and fans. And by mid-morning that day, his website had entries from 370 fans – when he’d normally get a few per day. He still has a book of encouraging comments, many from complete strangers.

From a popularity standpoint, the Whistling Straits heartache may have been the best thing that ever happened to Johnson. Everybody always knew he had the game. What they learned that day was that he had uncommon grace. Johnson became a highly sympathetic figure and Price the legalistic Pharisee.

Later that year, Johnson and Price found themselves with rooms on the same floor at Celtic Manor during the Ryder Cup. Price, embarrassed to find himself in the elevator with Johnson, awkwardly tried to apologise, saying how badly he felt for Johnson. But Johnson looked him straight in the eyes and said, “There are no hard feelings.”

Price has never forgotten Johnson’s civility and grace. Johnson just shrugs when you ask him about it.

“I was pissed [off] at Whistling Straits,” he says, “but I wasn’t that mad. Shit happens. Looking back on it, I don’t think I did anything wrong or I made a bad decision, because I didn’t think I was in the bunker. It’s golf. It’s the rules of golf. What can I do? I can’t argue it. I can’t get mad about it. I did it. It’s just one of those things.”

You ask him if he has a measure of inner pride for the way he dealt with the disaster.

“For sure,” he says. “I think I did a great job handling it. I got a lot of fans from the way I handled it. Golf is a gentleman’s game. I try to handle myself like a gentleman.”

Official David Price informs Johnson of his rules infraction and two-stroke penalty, costing him a spot in a play-off. Image: Getty Images

Johnson says he’s never been filled with rage about anything in his life. He says his parents and grandmother instilled in him a perspective that has never left him.

“I kind of grew up that way,” he says of his upbringing in Columbia, South Carolina. “I try not to ever worry about things I can’t control. That’s just kind of how I do things.“I get mad. I just probably don’t show it. I get pissed [off] when I’m on the course. I just won’t show it. That’s how I was taught. It’s OK to get mad. Just don’t let everyone else know you’re mad. Just growing up playing golf, I played with kids who pitched fits when they were playing, and I definitely didn’t want to look like they did, so I just never did it. Breaking clubs, throwing clubs … I just don’t do it.

“I live a pretty good life, so for me to get angry about some little things that happen is kind of petty. I have a lot else to look forward to.”

Especially after starting the year with a four-stroke victory over Steve Stricker in the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions – a victory that vaulted Johnson to No.14 in the world golf ranking.

He’ll take a lot of momentum into The Masters, a tournament that has confounded him, even though his game appears to be so suited for Augusta National that Phil Mickelson says, “There’s no reason Dustin shouldn’t win more than one Masters in his career.” Lefty should know. He has three green jackets in his closet.

Johnson grew up just 122km from Augusta. He went to a few Masters as a kid and cheered for Davis Love III and Fred Couples. He’d go back to his home course and pretend that he was putting to win The Masters. Later, while attending Coastal Carolina University, he went back to Augusta and followed Woods’ group, studying how the four-time Masters champ attacked each hole and navigated the treacherous greens.

It makes no sense to anybody – especially Johnson – that his best finish in three tries is a tie for 38th. He has a tied eighth at the US Open, three straight top-14 finishes at the Open Championship and two top-10s at the PGA Championship.

In 2009, he became just the second player in Masters history to get back-to-back eagles when he scorched the 13th and 14th holes. But he stumbled home to a 73 and finished 11 strokes behind winner Angel Cabrera.

“It surprises me a little bit because I really like the golf course,” he says. “I’ve played pretty well there. It’s just really tough. The greens are tough. It’s tough to putt around there. It really is. If you miss it in the wrong spots, you can’t get up and down.

Dustin Johnson Johnson opened his 2013 season with success in Hawaii. Image: Getty Images

“I feel really good there. I’ve usually played two good rounds and two OK rounds – and that’s going to give you a finish of about 30th. I just can’t put four good rounds together there. But the more you play there, the more comfortable you get, and the easier it gets.”

We know one thing about the 28-year-old Johnson: the words ‘intimidated’ and ‘rattled’ and ‘flustered’ are not part of his vocabulary. He doesn’t think them, speak them or feel them. He’s as loose as them come. So loose that his manager, David Winkle, says, “I swear he was dipped in Teflon at birth.”

That became very apparent at the Ryder Cup last September as he won all three of his matches – and was one of only three Americans to  win a final-day singles match as they systematically squandered a 10-6 lead in a shocking collapse.

Says Mickelson, “I like his game and I like being around him. He’s a fun guy to be around. He’s very easygoing. He’s very resilient. He doesn’t let stuff bother him, and that’s probably a good thing.”

The expectations are for Johnson to take the next step this year. It’s nice that he’s a freakish athlete with bombshell girlfriends and booming drives. Now when does he truly harness the potential and win a major?  Then again, he’s played in just 16 of them. Nick Faldo needed 22 of them. Nick Price needed 36. And Mickelson – in one of golf’s truly odd statistics – needed 47 of them.

Time is on Johnson’s side.