Johnson impresses with great power little fanfare

By Doug FergusonJune 12, 2010, 7:32 pm

2010 U.S. Open

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Dustin Johnson was in a predicament, his ball nestled between two clumps of sawgrass on the steep slope to the right of the 14th fairway at TPC Sawgrass.

Covering the 196 yards to the green looked to be an improbable shot, especially since the swing would have to be close to perfect for the club to avoid getting caught in the thick bush. Johnson reached for an 8-iron, quickly settled over the shot, and within seconds the ball exploded off the pine straw and settled on the front of the green.

Ernie Els was watching from the fairway and paid the ultimate compliment – he shook his head and smiled.

“From that bush to hit it on the green … that’s ridiculous,” Els said weeks later, remembering the shot as if it happened the day before. “He reminds me of myself at that age. He’s very carefree, very loose. He’s a strong guy and I like his attitude. And obviously, he’s got some serious game.”

The trouble is getting anyone to notice.

Youth is all the rage on the PGA Tour going into the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. When Justin Rose won the Memorial, he became the 10th player in his 20s to win on the PGA Tour this year. The list includes Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who won at Quail Hollow two days before his 21st birthday, and 24-year-old Anthony Kim, who picked up his third PGA Tour victory in Houston.

Johnson struggles to make the conversation.

He is 25, but only turned pro three years ago, about the same time as McIlroy. The age difference can be explained by the four years Johnson spent at Coastal Carolina, an obscure school on the golf landscape that had never been to the NCAAs until it went three straight years after Johnson arrived.

He doesn’t have the colorful wardrobe of Rickie Fowler or Ryo Ishikawa. He doesn’t wear the belt buckles and bling of Kim.

But when he won the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for the second straight year – only five others have done that, including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Sam Snead – Johnson became the first player since Tiger Woods to go straight from college and win in each of his first three years on the PGA Tour.

“I don’t lack any confidence, that’s for sure,” Johnson said. “I slide under the radar a little bit, but everybody else knows I’m out here. It’s OK with me.”

He is an imposing figure at 6-foot-4, so athletic that when he returned from an afternoon jet skiing, he picked up a basketball and dunked from underneath the basket – bare feet, wearing a wet bathing suit.

Johnson possesses the kind of power that made Woods stop and watch him on the range at Sawgrass. The best measure of his length comes not from statistics (No. 3 in driving distance last year with an average of 308.3 yards), but a comment often heard from those with whom he plays: He hits it as far as he needs to.

He has been playing practice rounds with Phil Mickelson since making it through all three stages of Q-school in 2007. Mickelson still remembers the first time they hooked up at the Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe outside San Diego.

The story brought a smile – the first time Johnson took some cash off Mickelson.

“I couldn’t believe his speed. I couldn’t believe how far he hit the ball and how much game he has,” Mickelson said. “He plays without fear, and that’s a cool thing to watch.”

Mickelson saw a little of himself in Johnson during the second round of The Players Championship.

Johnson was right on the cut line with three holes to play when he drove left into a stand of pine trees on the par-5 16th. With water down the right side and wrapping around the green, and with a suspect lie, the prudent shot – maybe the only shot – seemed to be punching out to 100 yards. That’s what Johnson’s caddie, Bobby Brown, suggested.

“No, get out of the way,” Johnson replied. He tried to hook the ball through a 4-foot gap in the pines, take it out over the water and bring it back to the green. It didn’t make it all the way back and found the water.

Brown said to Phil Mickelson as they walked toward the green, “Any time you want to say something to your protege that there’s a time and place for everything, go ahead and let him know.”

Mickelson only laughed.

“If I remember, he ended up salvaging par and made a birdie on the 17th,” Mickelson said. “He’s not afraid to take on those shots.”

His recent success at Pebble alone figures to make him a contender at the U.S. Open. Johnson had a five-shot lead in 2009 and was declared the winner when the final round was washed out. This year, he was tied for the lead on the 18th tee, a daunting hole when birdie is a must, and fearlessly smashed a driver shot down the left side of the fairway to set up his victory.

“His raw talent is unbelievable, but he’s not polished yet,” said Butch Harmon, who began working with Johnson last month. “He’s got guts. He and Phil play a lot of practice rounds for a decent amount of wager, and he’s got no back-off. If he can get his head in the game a little more, he’s only going to get better.”

Johnson worked for everything he has. Fortune smiled on him, too.

His life could have gone any number of directions as a teenager, when he struggled with his parents’ divorce, stopped going to class and was suspended from the high school golf team.

Worse yet was the company he kept, including the menacing older brother of one of his friends. According to court documents, Steve Gillian intimidated Johnson into buying bullets for a stolen gun. A month later, Gillian was charged with murder after shooting a man multiple times in the head after an argument.

Because of the loose connection to the crime, Johnson had to pay restitution for the theft and be willing to testify against Gillian, who is serving life without parole. Johnson received a full pardon from second-degree burglary three weeks before his first win at Pebble.

Maybe it was best that he didn’t have the grades to get into a big school. He had Allen Terrell as his coach at Coastal Carolina, who taught him as much about discipline as golf. And even though Johnson recently hired Harmon to polish his game, he refers to Terrell as a “huge influence in my life.”

“I was in a place where I could sack it up and go down the right path, or be a (jerk) and go down the wrong road,” Johnson said. “I always wanted to go to college. I always wanted to play pro golf. It wasn’t a hard decision for me. Back then, I couldn’t see myself being here. I’m definitely fortunate to be where I’m at.”

Getty Images

Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

Getty Images

Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.