It’s mid-October and the WestJet flight from Toronto is jammed with golfers. Groups of buddies have moved their game south for a few days to escape the invading chill.
Once off the plane, already wearing shorts and flip-flops, they wait for their clubs to appear on the baggage carousel at Myrtle Beach International Airport.
Outside the terminal, it is 25°C; sunny and simply beautiful. In the distance, golf awaits.
“Myrtle Beach is the golf mecca,” explains Dustin Johnson, the small coastal South Carolina city’s most famous golfer.
Johnson was born in nearby Columbia, but his game was built in Myrtle Beach on the very courses thousands of tourists flock to each year.
He opened his golf academy, The Dustin Johnson Golf School, just last year, and often returns here from his current home in Florida. The academy operates out of TPC Myrtle Beach and is run by Allen Terrell, Johnson’s swing coach for more than a decade. Johnson remains a staunch supporter of the area as a golf tourist location.
“It was a no-brainer putting my golf school in Myrtle Beach,” Johnson says. “I know how much I enjoy my time there, and how I have benefitted from developing my game on these courses.”
At 29, Johnson has become one of the top golfers in the world. He has been out on the PGA Tour full-time since 2008 and is, along with Tiger Woods, the only player to have won at least one tournament in each of his first seven years on the tour. Johnson reached that milestone with a clutch final-round performance at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai, China, last November.
Many experts believe Johnson’s win in China, with two of the world’s other top players breathing down his neck—Ian Poulter of England and Graeme McDowell of Ireland—may be the spark to send Johnson to a big 2014, and possibly his first major tournament win. He has not yet won any of golf’s four top annual tournaments, and he will face questions about that until he does.
“There are a lot of great players who have had a lot of big wins who haven’t won a major,” he told reporters at a press conference at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Ha., in early January. “There is quite a large group, but, you know, majors are always difficult. I’ve been up there in quite a few, and I just need to keep putting myself in that position.”
Johnson is one of golf’s most-watched players, and there are two reasons for that. On the course, it’s because he hits absolute bombs off the tee.
Off the course, it’s because people are trying to catch a glimpse of him with his photogenic fiancée, Paulina Gretzky (Wayne’s first-born).
The couple got engaged last year and are now making discreet plans as to when and where they will tie the knot. Details are slim.
“We don’t have a date yet,” he told reporters in Kapalua. “But it will be in the fall of this year.”
It’s not clear, though, where the newlyweds will be living. After spending his formative years in Myrtle Beach, Johnson now lives in Jupiter, Fla. However, he put his waterfront mansion there on the market last December for $6.5 million.
What is clear is that this is shaping up to be a monumental year for Johnson: a new wife, a new home and, if all goes according to plan, a new major trophy to bring home.
Getting There: WestJet flies to Myrtle Beach twice a week from Toronto.