There is something special about watching Dustin Johnson hit a golf ball. Even in the supersonic era of technology, a ball coming off the clubface of a Johnson driver has a different sound, a soaring trajectory that leaves even his peers in awe.
A gifted athlete with immense physical skills, Johnson is the kind of golfer who could dominate the game. His length is a huge advantage and he has already won eight PGA Tour titles while famously contending at three major championships.
Sometime soon Johnson, 30, will return from an "indefinite leave" a changed man. His fiancé, Paulina Gretzky, had the couple's first child, a baby boy, on Monday, and Johnson is determined to get his life and game back on track. He's denied alleged drug use in an interview with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi, but admitted that he drank too much and spent too much time partying.
Johnson also did a sit-down interview with Sports Illustrated, an attempt to set the record straight with the magazine's sister publication -- golf.com -- that reported last summer that the golfer was not taking a leave, but had in fact been suspended for six months due to failing a test for recreational drugs.
The website specifically reported cocaine as the issue, and said it was the third such time Johnson ran afoul of PGA Tour policy, which would fall under the broad parameters of "conduct unbecoming" a professional, which can lead to a wide variety of punishment -- none of which is publicly disclosed.
And yet upon the release of the early August golf.com report, the PGA Tour took the unusual step of commenting, denying that Johnson had been suspended and saying that he was taking a leave of absence.
Golf.com continues to stand by its story, but Johnson told Rinaldi that he was not suspended and that he doesn't have a cocaine problem.
"There is a lot of speculation and there is a lot of curiosity about that," Johnson said. "But you know, I'm not really here today to talk about that. I had some issues. And still working on things. But that's not one of them."
OK, let's be clear: If you failed a drug test, and your employer -- or in this case, the association of which you are a member and whose rules you must follow to take part -- doesn't make you disclose it or admit to it publicly, would you acknowledge it?
And if you are concerned he may be lying, could it be that Johnson technically never failed a test? That perhaps he refused to take one, and thus was in violation of the tour's policy?
The bigger question is: Why would Johnson have chosen to take his leave when he did? That is why this entire episode is met with so much skepticism.
He was having a career year.
Johnson had just tied for 12th at the Open Championship. He tied for fourth at the U.S. Open and the WGC-Cadillac Championship. He had won the WGC-HSBC Champions in China to start the 2013-14 season, accumulated more than $4 million in earnings and was a lock to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
And yet Johnson announced his leave on the eve of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He would be skipping that as well as the PGA Championship. And the four FedEx Cup playoff events. Despite missing a World Golf Championship event, a major championship and the first three FedEx playoff events, Johnson still qualified for the season-ending Tour Championship.
Then he missed the Ryder Cup and didn't defend his title in China.
That is a lot of money to pass up. If you look at just the guaranteed cash in the no-cut events, that number is likely north of $230,000. Not to mention the prestige of the Ryder Cup and the lost opportunity to win another major.
It just doesn't pass muster, which is far more on the PGA Tour than it is on Johnson. If he isn't made to tell the truth, why should he? Are his personal issues our business? No -- except when he is forced to sit on the sideline, made to deal with his issues.
No other professional sports entity in the United States acts with less transparency, perhaps the one blight on commissioner Tim Finchem's otherwise sterling record. Even golfers have real-world problems, and yet we are to believe those problems don't exist in the polyester world of fairways and greens, that Johnson willingly walked away from the game at one of its most important junctures?
Johnson has never said how long he would be away from the game. The six-month mark, with the absence beginning around the start of the WGC-Bridgestone on July 31, is approaching in early February. Don't be surprised if Johnson will be back in two weeks at Torrey Pines, where he says things will be different.
"I would drink and drink to excess," Johnson said of his past. "The change I made is I just don't do that anymore. I definitely have given up hard liquor 'cause that was the thing that I went to ... it's been a big change."
Johnson told Rinaldi that he and Paulina Gretzky have rented a house near his soon-to-be father-in-law, Hall of Fame hockey player Wayne Gretzky. Breakfast and dinner at the elder Gretzky's house is common. So are rounds of golf at nearby Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California, with the Great One.
"To have a mentor or a role model, you don't get any better than that," said Johnson, who admitted he has just been "scratching the surface" of his potential.
All of that sounds great, but actions will be the true measure. Johnson is popular among fans and fun to watch. He's great for the game, and if he could get to where he wins a few times a year and knocks off a major or two, those rockets that he launches will be only part of what fans come to witness.
Perhaps then this six-month saga will be just a line in his biography, a small part of his story, one that still doesn't sit quite right.