Positive spin: DJ's attitude key to reaching No. 1

By Randall MellApril 4, 2017, 10:37 pm

UPDATE: Dustin Johnson injured his lower back in a fall down a staircase Wednesday at His Augusta rental home. He hopes to be able to play Thursday. More details here.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dustin Johnson looks engineered to play golf.

At 6 feet 4 and 190 pounds, he’s strong and athletic, as powerful and agile as you’ll find in the men’s game, a guy who can now delicately coax a wedge shot as impressively as he can obliterate a golf ball.

Here’s the funny thing, though.

Claude Harmon says the internal construction of the world No. 1 is just as impressive.

That’s the stunner here for a lot of folks.

Harmon says there is strength where a lot of people thought there was weakness.

He believes that just might make Johnson a sports psychologist’s dream.

“You would never think Dustin would be the perfect embodiment of everything a sports psychologist talks about, but he is,” said Harmon, who works with his father, Butch, as Johnson’s swing coaches. “He is probably the most positive athlete I have ever been around.”

The things sports psychologists work so hard to get players to understand, Harmon says it's almost second nature to Johnson.

There’s so much more failure in golf than any other sport, and it messes with players’ heads. Johnson compartmentalizes ruthlessly.

Masters Tournament: Tee times | Full coverage

He doesn’t fret or brood over a lot of things he can’t control. He doesn’t beat himself up with regret looking back. He’s got a real gift in being able to learn a hard lesson and then move on.

“Dustin doesn’t look backward, he looks forward,” Harmon said.

For Johnson, that’s the story of his journey to No. 1. It’s the story of how he went from blowing major championship chances at Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits, Royal St. George’s and Chambers Bay to winning in the U.S. Open in tour-de-force style at Oakmont last year.

There has been strength in Johnson not overthinking things that just plain makes sense to him. His power is in deciding and doing without wavering.

“At the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, even before that, people said that he wasn’t smart enough or tough enough, that losses didn’t bother him enough,” Harmon said. “He came across to some people as aloof.

“When people have asked him about the things that have happened to him, he’s always said,`I don’t want to waste a lot of energy and time on things I can’t change. The only thing I can change is the future.’”

So from big picture decisions, like his time away to address “personal challenges” in that six-month break in 2014, and committing himself fully to his young son and family, to smaller ones like learning to dial in his wedges and improve his putting stroke, Johnson hasn’t just remade himself as the world No. 1. He has remade himself as the man to beat at the Masters.

“I feel like my game is really solid right now,” Johnson said. “I feel like I've been working hard on it, and I feel like I'm playing really well.”

Johnson, 32, is the first player in 41 years to tee it up at the Masters coming off three consecutive victories, the first since Hubert Green came in that hot in 1976.

Johnson was asked if that adds any pressure to his quest to win the green jacket this week.

“I don’t know,” Johnson said. “It’s the first time I’ve been the favorite.”

That’s a quintessential Johnson answer.

Being the favorite seems to make it harder to win the Masters.

No betting favorite’s won the event since Tiger Woods won it in 2005.

No world No. 1 has won a green jacket since Woods in ’02.

There’s more than momentum working for Johnson in his play of late. There’s also Masters’ momentum. He didn’t have a top 10 in his first five starts at Augusta National, but he tied for sixth two years ago. He stepped it up again last year, getting himself in contention on the back nine for the first time on a Masters’ Sunday, ultimately tying for fourth.

Johnson’s game has never looked more suited to win the Masters, even with a fade as his new go-to shot. A draw is the optimum tee shot played at Augusta National, with so many dogleg lefts.

“If I need a draw, I'll just hit a 3 wood,” Johnson said. “No. 10 is really the only hole where I need to turn it over. Other than that, I feel like my fade works just fine on every hole.”

Johnson’s improved wedge game and improved putting will serve him well with a driver that still allows him to overpower holes.

Harmon believes Johnson’s attitude will continue to be an asset at the Masters.

“If I had gone into the media center Sunday night at Chambers Bay a few hours after what happened there that year and said, 'DJ is going go to win the U.S. Open at Oakmont and become the No. 1 player in the world.' I don’t think anybody would have believed me,” Harmon said. “Everybody would have said `There’s no chance. He’s an unbelievable talent, but he doesn’t drive it good enough. He doesn’t putt good enough. He’s not smart enough. He’s never reached his potential.’ But he did win. It’s a testament not only to what a great athlete he is, but how he is the most positive player.”

Getty Images

McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

Getty Images

Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.