AUGUSTA — Wayne Gretzky has won the Stanley Cup, coached in the Olympics and been counted among the best athletes in any sport, but until this week, the “Great One” had never attended the Masters.
With his daughter Paulina dating golfer Dustin Johnson, Gretzky was among the crowd following Johnson’s group on Friday. With wife Janet at his side, Gretzky followed with interest as Johnson rose to the top of the leaderboard before a rough patch on the back nine.
Gretzky, who particularly relished the view from atop the hill behind the ninth green, said his family is enjoying their first trip around Augusta National.
“We’re having fun, and Dustin is such a good kid,” he said. “The people are nice ... great experience.”
Johnson birdied No. 13 to move to the lead at 7-under but was 6-over for the next five holes to fall into a tie for 20th place heading into today. Still, Gretzky was upbeat about the South Carolina native’s chances of putting on the green jacket on Sunday.
“The thing about pro golf is everyone is so good, anyone can win it,” he said. “You don’t win it in one day; you don’t lose it in one day.”
And just because the hockey legend has never been to the Masters before doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his Masters history. In addition to taking in the beauty of the course and watching his daughter’s boyfriend compete, the native of Ontario recalled the 2003 tournament with pride.
“It’s nice to be here on the 10th anniversary of Mike Weir winning it, the first Canadian,” Gretzky said.
Weir beat Len Mattiace in a playoff that year to become the first Canadian to win any major, as well as the first lefthanded player to win the Masters.
While Gretzky is having his first Masters experience this week, it’s not his first time seeing Johnson’s ability on the golf course. The two were paired together in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February. Johnson missed the cut after three rounds in that event, but he made his mark on his girlfriend’s famous father.
“He’s really good,” Gretzky said. “He’s a really good player.”
Even though Gretzky has joined Johnson in his pastime, the No. 19 golfer in the world has declined his opportunity to lace up skates with the “Great One” for a little hockey.
“Tried to once; he wouldn’t do it,” Gretzky said of getting Johnson on the ice.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.