To see Wayne Gretzky in Dustin Johnson's gallery at tournaments the past few years, one would assume he's there simply to offer support to the fiance of his daughter and the father of his grandson.
But Gretzky acknowledged in a recent interview that Johnson's competitive career has also helped fill a void left when he retired from the NHL in 1999.
“I never thought - once I retired - that I would have the same sense or the same feeling, going into tournaments that you are pulling so badly and wanting somebody to win so desperately that your stomach hurts when you are watching," Gretzky told Graham Bensinger in an interview that will air this weekend. "Sometimes I have to turn away if [Dustin’s] got a putt or sometimes I get nervous if he’s got a shot. . . . That’s because you’re pulling for them so badly that you get this anxiety inside you that you want them to be so successful.”
In Gretzky's view, watching Johnson, the reigning U.S. Open champion and PGA Tour player of the year, is part of how he has dealt with the transition of life after hockey. He has sought to channel some of his competitive energy as an NHL coach and executive, but in the same way he has followed son Trevor's career as a minor league baseball player, he takes satisfaction as a dad in the crowd.
"There’s no way to replace the high and the excitement and enthusiasm I had as a professional hockey player. The closest thing you can get to it - like my mom and dad - you live your life through your kids," Gretzky said. "Whatever your kids are doing, you know, you pull for them. . . . That’s kind of how you look for your vice, but nothing replaces the thrill of playing hockey.”