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.

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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.”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.