DJ built for majors; with one, more to come?

By Joe PosnanskiJune 20, 2016, 10:25 pm

OAKMONT, Pa. – Dustin Johnson never did fit in with that group of players that fans so casually categorize as the “best to never win a major championship." That club has always felt a bit too much like golf's isle of Misfit Toys for him. You know: One guy is a magnificent grinder but he doesn't have quite enough firepower. Another can hit it pure but he lacks a little bit of the magic that you need around the greens. The third has enough game but he hesitates ever so slightly in the pivotal moment.

And all of them, if they are being honest with themselves, kind of know why they are here on the Island.

But Dustin Johnson, no, he never belonged here. DJ? Flawed? Are you kidding? This guy does not belong on some island with a bunch of very good players who just couldn’t quite win the big one. He belonged on the top of a mountain, and not just any mountain, Mount Olympus, the one with Hephaestus, the god of fire, and Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, and Dustinus, the god of "Great Zeus, did you see the way he smashed the Prometheus out of that golf that ball?”

DJ has everything. He has the 350-yard drives. He has the towering approach shots. He makes more birdies and eagles than just about anybody. I remember years ago getting fitted for clubs as part of a story, and the golf science-y guy there – the one that puts all the sensors on the body and measures every ounce of golfing talent you have – asked me to name the most talented player in the world. There was only one right answer, he said.

"Tiger Woods?" I asked. He shook his head no.

"Rory McIlroy?" I asked. He shook his head no.

And then he told me that Johnson's golfing talent is so overwhelming that it about blew up his sensors. No player had ever tested even close to him. "Dustin is the most talented golfer on earth," he said. "And nobody is in second place."

His swing is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive; his shots leap tall buildings in a single bound and then drop softly on the other side, dance a little salsa dance and spin toward the cup like an obedient puppy. It isn’t just that he can make the game look easy. He makes it look too easy. Have you ever owned a standup video game, the sort they used to have in arcades back when there were arcades? Once, a few years ago, I bought an old Superman video game at a sale for around twenty-five bucks. I always wanted a video game. I got so good at it that I literally made it obsolete … I reached the end and there was nothing left.

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That’s how DJ plays sometimes – like he has reached the end and there’s nothing left.

No, a guy like Dustin Johnson doesn’t belong on the Isle of Misfit Toys with the elf who wants to be a dentist or the Jack in the Box named Charlie or Sergio Garcia. This is a guy who can dunk a basketball, a guy engaged to Paulina, a guy who has the greatest hockey player ever just following him around tournaments. Snake-bit? This guy? Not a chance.

But, of course, you know: He was snake-bit. He couldn’t win that major for a long, long time. He kept winning on the PGA Tour. He kept putting himself in position to win majors. But something always broke down. What? Well, sometimes, a lot of the time, it fell apart because he couldn’t putt the ball in the hole. Putting has wrecked a lot of great players through the years.

Sometimes it fell apart because he was struggling with his personal life. He stepped away from the Tour for a while. There have always been rumors.

Sometimes – a lot of the time, actually – strange stuff just happened to him. He found himself in a bunker that didn’t look anything like a bunker. He found himself putting for a U.S. Open over greens the color and texture of sandpaper. And so on.

Sometimes, frankly, you just had no idea what was going on in his head. He seemed a bit dazed and confused. Johnson takes the Zen approach to golf, meaning he doesn’t want to think too much about it. He’s like the anti-Spieth. When people ask him questions that seem to complicate things, he just won’t go with them, as can be seen by this classic reporter-player exchange before Sunday’s round:

“Do you want (the conditions) to be as hard as it can possibly be?”

DJ: “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be hard.”

“Jason (Day) was just saying he wanted it to be really hard – is a hard golf course to the advantage of (the best players)?”

DJ: “I would imagine it’s going to be quite difficult Sunday.”

And sometimes, well, his inability to win the big one was sort of inexplicable. I watched Johnson so thoroughly obliterate the Old Course at St. Andrews in last year’s Open Championship that, honestly, it just seemed like everybody else would be saving time by just going home. He was 10 under par after the first two rounds and, with a little bit of luck, he could have been 20 under.

And then, he just stopped making birdies. He just stopped. Yeah, much of it came down to his putting, but some of it was just, I don’t know, he just sort of malfunctioned. He kept hitting drives longer than anybody and approaches higher than anybody and somehow he’d hit just enough bad shots to keep from scoring. He faded away.

At Oakmont it seemed like it would be yet another fade-away chapter in Johnson’s weird career. In the first round, he obliterated the course. Analysts can’t help but compare players with Woods, and it normally isn’t fair to either the player or the the incomparable Woods.

But Johnson in the first round at Oakmont was a near-perfect parallel to Tiger, but not the dominant and complete Woods of the 2000s. DJ was like raw Tiger in 1997, the year he so thoroughly overpowered the Masters that the Augusta National people realized they would have to completely change the golf course.

Tiger wasn’t a great player yet. But he was powerful. You will remember at Augusta, he turned every par 5 into a par 4. He hit wedge shots into every green. It was laughable. And that’s how Johnson treated Oakmont. The people of Pittsburgh take great pride in Oakmont being the toughest golf course in America, in the world, and yet there was Johnson hitting easy wedges into every green and having decent birdie looks on most holes. It’s a good thing the USGA had the greens running at 200 on the stimp or Johnson might have shot 59.

Then the tournament went formless. A crazy rain storm sent everybody scrambling, golf rounds bled from one day into the next, the top players in the world faded from view. And somehow Johnson found himself four shots back going into Sunday and just hanging around with a couple of Isle of Misfit Toys frat brothers, Garcia and Lee Westwood. He still seemed to playing better than anyone else. But this had become a familiar story.

Sunday was one of the weirdest days in major championship history, of course, with bizarre rulings and non-rulings, with players charging and retreating in constantly dramatic fashion, and at no point until the very end did it seem like Johnson would win. But he did win, even if the USGA did its very best to obscure that fact with its bizarre rulings and non-rulings. Johnson made a titanic, one of a kind, Dustin Johnson birdie on the 18th hole, the one nobody can birdie, to clinch the U.S. Open trophy and the greatest victory of his life.

And then he said the most Dustin Johnson thing ever:

“Even on the 18th green, after I hit it in there close, I had to ask my brother, I’m like, ‘Where do we stand?’ I’m pretty sure I’m ahead but I had no idea.”

So, now what? Everybody has been waiting to see who would own the golf world in the post-Tiger era. McIlroy has staked a claim. Spieth and Day have staked a claim.

And now, Dustin Johnson, age 31, is the U.S. Open champion. He knows that he can hold up under even the most ridiculous conditions and circumstances. He still hits the ball longer than anybody and higher than anybody. He now rouses American galleries like no one except Phil Mickelson.

You get the sense, talking to the other players, that they now know that the floodgates have opened, and the Age of Dustin is about to begin.

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

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Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.