In the afterglow of his record-setting Masters victory, Dustin Johnson broke character during an interview with CBS Sports' Amanda Balionis on the practice putting green. Balionis transported Johnson back in time with the question of what he'd tell his younger self about the 2020 reality of putting one arm after the other into a green jacket being held by Tiger Woods.
Balionis was kind enough to reflect on the moment, which was both appreciated in real time and will be remembered in concert with Johnson's 20-under, with The Big Lead Sunday night.
Kyle Koster: Before today, I don't think many people would have had Dustin Johnson at the top of any list regarding which golfer is most likely to cry during an interview. Were you surprised by that?
Amanda Balionis: Very. I've been interviewing Dustin since I started covering golf in 2011 and you kind of know what to expect. He's going to answer the question that you ask and he's going to underplay his performance and always chalk it up to executing and being in command. When he's not playing well, he's very honest about that too but he's generally unemotional. Even when he won his first major there wasn't a lot of emotion.
I think what happened, though, is he was wearing the green jacket on the practice putting green, Tiger had just put it on him and it really just hit him in that moment that he'd accomplished his childhood dream. You know, he grew up an hour away from this golf course. This was the one and when I asked him the question, I think he really took himself back to when he was a little kid dreaming of the moment and it finally hit him. It was pretty incredible to see because we usually see a very in-control Dustin Johnson and we kind of got a peek behind the curtain, which I think was wonderful.
KK: Absolutely. When did you decide on that being the question you were going to ask, because I one hundred percent agree, it does have that ability to transport a person back.
AB: I think when I was listening to him in Butler Cabin with Jim Nantz. We saw how emotional Austin got and that was something we haven't really seen a lot of either. So all of the sudden, you realize this is his brother, he probably grew up thinking these same exact things and watching his brother dream. They have put in so much hard work together. Winning any major is unbelievable but this is really close to home for both of them.
We did a tease for last year's Masters and it was all about a child pursuing his dreams and believing they can accomplish anything. I realized Dustin is exactly what we were talking about last year. He's this kid that made his dream a reality. I think for all of us, when we're passionate about something, it starts from a really young age. Being able to anchor back to what sparked that passion and made it a career is always a great way to go.
KK: When you started to see that he's overcome by the moment, how did you have the discipline to let that moment breathe? I went back and counted 9 or 10 seconds of silence, which can feel like an eternity on television.
AB: It was clearly such a vulnerable moment for him and my job is to try to create space for the person to give their authentic feelings and emotions in that moment. I thought he was being his most authentic self and that's not something he always does in the public eye. I needed to give him space. If he can gather his words, great, but if he can't, that silence and his reaction probably says more than words ever could.
To be honest, time can either feel faster or slower to us in the moment and I relied on our producer Lance Barrow to let me know if I should ask another question or throw it back to Jim. Because in that moment, I was going to let Dustin be exactly where he needed to be.
KK: If I can borrow a page out of your book and ask you what you'd tell your younger self now knowing you get to be in moments like that at places like Augusta? In my opinion, Johnson's reaction is going to be remembered as much as his record score. How does it feel knowing that you facilitated something that will now likely be inextricable?
AB: It's funny. When I was asking him that question, and especially when I walked away after, the first person I went to call was my mom. And I started getting a bit emotional. I'm asking him about accomplishing his childhood dreams when I'm literally getting to live mine, which is pretty cool.
When you turn something that you're passionate about into your career, that passion has been there for a long time. This is all I've ever wanted to do my whole life. The moment was not lost on me that were some parallels and I still have the pinch-me times that I get to be part of this CBS team, let alone be entrusted with something like that on the practice green at Augusta.
I don't know if the younger me would believe it but she would say that's where she wants to be.