Let’s take a moment here to appreciate Dustin Johnson.
Has he really received the admiration he deserves for what he’s done in his career?
We’re watching a truly exceptional player, a guy who has already won as many PGA Tour events as Greg Norman and will probably blow past Raymond Floyd and Gary Player, among others, before he’s done.
He just won his 20th PGA Tour title, the WGC-Mexico Championship, earning him a lifetime exemption and, next week, Johnson will return to No. 1 in the world ranking, a spot he has held previously for 81 weeks, more than anyone but Rory McIlroy, Nick Faldo, Norman and Tiger Woods.
Yet somehow it seems Johnson’s achievements have been viewed through a slightly fuzzy lens. Whether it was the majors he didn’t win or missing the Masters two years ago or what’s going on in his personal life, Johnson hasn’t been put on the public pedestal like some others.
Part of it is his manner, the cool vibe he exudes. He doesn’t naturally invite the world in the way Jordan Spieth or McIlroy seem to do when they play. It’s not Johnson’s way but he’s a popular guy who goes about his business while constructing a career that assures him a spot in the Hall of Fame.
I love Butch Harmon’s analogy. He sees Johnson as the guy in those old Hollywood Westerns who would hear about a hotshot who wanted to challenge him to a gunfight. Johnson is the guy who listens to the talk then eventually walks outside and before the other guy can whip out his gun, lays him out then walks back inside like nothing happened.
When Johnson did two things – committed to hitting a fade off the tee and fell in love with using a launch monitor to dial in his wedge play – he went into a different orbit.
Since the back injury he sustained slipping down the stairs at Augusta two years ago, Johnson has been close to his top form but not all the way there. Here’s a scary thought for anyone trying to beat him – Johnson feels good again.
“I finally feel like everything is getting very close … and I felt like I’ve got the same feels, I’m seeing the same shot shapes and I’m really controlling the golf ball.” – Dustin Johnson
“It’s the closest I’ve felt to that since I got hurt two years ago,” Johnson said in Mexico. “I finally feel like everything is getting very close to where I was then and I felt like I’ve got the same feels, I’m seeing the same shot shapes and I’m really controlling the golf ball.
“I’m starting to drive it like I was back then, and for me that’s a big key and it’s a big confidence booster for my game. If I know I’m hitting it well and driving it good, you know, it’s going to give me a lot of confidence.”
Johnson’s résumé includes victories at Pebble Beach, Kapalua, Doral, Firestone, Oakmont and Riviera among other spots. Pretty impressive list. Just as striking is Johnson’s ability to gear down at Club de Golf Chapultepec and win on a course that played the equivalent of 6,300 yards at sea level.
Looking for the favorite at the Masters? Oddsmakers have already beat you to it with DJ.
IN CASE YOU’RE WONDERING …
• I’m in agreement with Rickie Fowler and others that the new drop rule needs to be changed. Anywhere from the shoulder to the knee would work.
Don’t count on it happening. The USGA made it clear at its annual meeting last week that it has no intention of making any changes to the new rules.
The argument for keeping the knee height drop is it saves time because the ball tends not to run out of the drop area as often when dropped from a lower height. That’s an issue in tournament play on occasion but not in casual play. Enforcing pace-of-play guidelines more aggressively would make a bigger difference than the new drop rule.
• Speaking of the rules, that brings to mind the backstopping firestorm on the LPGA Tour last week. The players, Amy Olson and Ariya Jutanugarn, swore their innocence and were taken at their word, though their fist-bumping and laughing looked bad in the moment.
The issue could be eliminated – it needs to be – by penalizing both players if one ball hits the other. One stroke for the player who is off the green and two for the player who failed to mark his or her ball near the hole, a good idea proposed by former PGA Tour player turned radio host Carl Paulson.
It goes back to a simple question – if it was match play would the player whose ball is near the hole leave it unmarked? Not a chance.
• First, Bryson DeChambeau takes a chunk out of a bunker in Los Angeles then he buries his putter in the practice green in Mexico City last week. He didn’t help himself by appearing in a short video with Bubba Watson and his caddie, Ted Scott, demonstrating how to test the firmness of a green by properly slamming a club into the ground.
— ted scott (@jtedscott) February 23, 2019
A sense of humor goes a long way in golf – the game and its people are too serious too much of the time – but DeChambeau missed the mark with this one. Too soon, as the saying goes.
• Rory McIlroy is 56-under par in four starts this year but hasn’t won.
• The PGA Tour starts its Florida swing this week at the Honda Classic, where we’ll be inundated with talk about the “Bear Trap” at PGA National.
Maybe it’s just me but I’d much rather watch a tournament at a place like Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico than what we’ll see this week with windblown shots dying in the South Florida lagoons.
No surprise that a lot of the top players – including Johnson and Woods who live nearby – are taking the week off.
• Jerry Kelly has gone off to the PGA Tour Champions but before making the transition he got a good look at the new generation of players and he likes what he sees.
“We grew up in a different generation where we learned about respect from our fathers,” Kelly said. “We feel some of that was lost along the way. What I would call a quiet individualism tried to follow Tiger after what he did. Now there is a group of guys he’s taught and pushed and they’re awesome. They play together and live near each other.
“I love this generation. They respect the game and they’re friends. But they’re competitive. It’s like playing against your brother and (you) never want to beat anyone as badly as you want to beat your brother.”
A FINAL THOUGHT
Perhaps the only thing more prevalent on tour these days than launch monitors is players talking about what “we” did on the course – “We made a nice birdie there” or “We held it together in the middle of the round.”
It’s a nice nod to the people in their “team” but the reality is the players hit the shots and shoot the scores. They deserve the credit because they take the blame and there’s plenty of that these days. It’s OK for a player to talk about what he or she did.
“People ask me if we had coaches or trainers back in my day,” 89-year-old Don January said. “Hell, yeah but I had a different name for them. I called them bartender.”
Dustin Johnson reacts last week during his 20th PGA Tour victory – the WGC-Mexico Championship. Photo: Rob Carr, Getty Images
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