DJ didn't dwell on Chambers: 'Guys ... it's just golf'

By Rex HoggardJune 13, 2016, 3:20 pm

In the immediate moments after last year’s U.S. Open Dustin Johnson, hand in hand with his fiancée, Paulina Gretzky, walked up the steep hill away from Chambers Bay’s 18th green.

He’d just lost the U.S. Open.

A mixture of stunned silence and appreciative applause blanketed the moon-like landscape as Johnson brushed past reporters on his way to the makeshift locker room.

“When I saw the photo of him shaking hands [with playing partner Jason Day], that look in his eyes you could see the pain,” said Johnson’s longtime trainer, Joey Diovisalvi.

It was an entirely predictable reaction to three-putting the 72nd hole of a major championship from 12 feet to lose by a stroke.

What isn’t as predictable is how short lived that moment of pain and suffering was for Johnson.

The acceptable response for such a high-profile misstep would be disbelief, doubt and maybe even a little anger. Few can withstand such a psychological blow unscathed and most would retreat to a safe place to lament such a high-profile loss.

But in the time it took Johnson and Co. to reach Chambers Bay’s locker room the recovery was complete.

“I’m disappointed that I three-putted the last hole, but other than that, I had a damn good week,” Johnson said at the time. “I’m really happy with the way I played. I’m happy with everything in my game right now. I had a chance to win again in a major on Sunday, and I thought I handled myself very well.”

There are those, both inside and out of the mainstream sports media, who figured Johnson’s words were little more than self-satisfying psycho babble. It was the right thing to say about an utterly wrenching moment, but he didn’t mean it.

How could he?

A chance to win a major championship is rare, even for a player as talented as Johnson.

But those closest to Johnson, those who walked that lonely hill with him last year at Chambers Bay and climbed into a quiet courtesy car for the uncomfortable drive back to his rented house tell a vastly different story.

“I reached over the headrest and gave him a pat on the back; I didn’t know what to say,” recalled Johnson’s manager, David Winkle. “He turned around and said, ‘Guys, lighten up, it’s just golf.’”

Even in the locker room in the moments after losing Johnson worked through the inevitable emotions quicker than one would think possible.

Was there anger? Sure. Frustration? Absolutely. Maybe even a little confusion. How, for example, did his last full shot, a towering second at the par-5 72nd hole, stay above the brown and bouncy hole when gravity and those questionable greens demand it release down below the cup?

But that’s just not Dustin.

“He has never spoken to me about Chambers Bay, never said one thing,” said Claude Harmon III, who, along with his swing coach father, Butch, works with Johnson. “A caddie asked him a few weeks later, ‘You going to be OK?’ Dustin was like, ‘What do you mean? I can’t change it. I don’t want to waste my time and energy on something I can’t fix.’”

It was familiar territory for Johnson. This is, after all, the same player who had taken a three-shot lead into the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach but imploded spectacularly with a front-nine 42 to finish tied for eighth.

Two months later he stepped to the 72nd tee at the PGA Championship needing a par to win, but instead grounded his club in what officials defined as a hazard and took a two-stroke penalty.

Whether he ignored the warning signs or was simply on the wrong side of fate is open to interpretation. All that matters to Johnson is he finished two shots out of a playoff that was won by Martin Kaymer.

Yet after each and every misstep the game’s preeminent bomber would shrug off his plight as perennial also-ran with an ease that defies conventional wisdom.

“Dustin has the ability to live in the moment, not in the past. That’s very unique about him,” Diovisalvi said.

His Wisconsin woes continued at Whistling Straits last year during the PGA when he began his final round with a quadruple-bogey 8, although he would rebound with a closing 69 to finish tied for seventh; and at this year’s Masters he rejoined the major fray only to come up short again with two double bogeys on Sunday.

Neither last year’s PGA nor this year’s Masters carried the shock and awe of his finish at Chambers Bay, but Johnson’s reaction fell in line with his own, unique status quo.

“I asked if he hit good putts at [Nos.] 2 and 3 on Sunday,” Harmon said following this year’s Masters. “He said, ‘What did I do on two and three? Oh yeah, I hit over the green on three. Did I hit it close on No. 2? Did I have a putt?’ So, he really thinks like that.”

It may surprise some that hidden behind the neatly manicured beard and athletic swagger resides a bona fide optimist.

You know the deal, you can only want something so much; and make no mistake, he desperately wants to shed his major modus operandi, but in the truest sense he’s not bound by the expectations of greatness, either from within or via the inevitable external noises.

There were no dark moments in the days and weeks after Chambers Bay, no self-indulgent cracks in what is otherwise a flawless firewall.

Dustin Johnson misses a birdie putt to force a playoff at the 2015 U.S. Open (Getty)

As is his way, Johnson is focused only on the next shot, the next round, the next tournament.

“It’s almost like the world expects him to be wallowing in disappointment,” Winkle said. “It’s like they are frustrated that he is not. To an extent I get it, because he’s so unique in that regard, but his takeaway from all these near misses is that he’s really good at playing major championship golf and it’s just a matter of getting over that last hurdle and finishing things off.”

For all of Johnson’s many attributes – chief among them his abundant power and competitive moxie (you don’t win an event on the PGA Tour for eight consecutive years without a healthy dose of determination) – it may be that mystifying ability to not dwell on disappointment that is most valuable.

“If you could design an athlete, you wouldn’t design one with introspective. You wouldn’t design an athlete from scratch that had a long memory, that was intellectual, a guy who is always thinking,” Harmon said. “You would design a guy who plays one week and then forgets about it.”

Those closest to Johnson point to Phil Mickelson as a paradigm of hope. Lefty was 33 years old when he won his first major at the 2004 Masters after spending the first decade of his career finding all manner of ways to lose.

Johnson turns 32 later this month.

“For Phil it was a decade, we kept saying he has to win [a major] some time. But with DJ, it’s he’s never going to win,” Harmon said.

Perhaps a better comparison would be Fred Couples, whose laid-back demeanor most easily dovetails with Johnson’s public persona.

“People made the same assumption about Fred Couples for years because he had this kind of laid-back demeanor on the golf course,” Winkle said. “They took it to mean he didn’t care, but that wasn’t true about Freddie and I can promise you it’s not true about Dustin.”

To be clear, there is a difference between competitive amnesia and selective processing.

He’s learned from each failure. At Pebble Beach in 2010, his first turn under the major spotlight, things moved too quickly for Johnson; while the ’10 PGA was a lesson in situational awareness, if not the unpredictable hand of fate. He could certainly putt better under the Grand Slam gun, and his aggressive style born from prodigious length is always an area of interest when a title is on the line late on a major Sunday.

But at Chambers Bay, where one could argue he lost the tournament well before he arrived at the 18th tee with three bogeys in four holes starting at No. 10, there were no regrets because there was no need.

The fact is Johnson wasn’t trying to be a hero when he settled in over his eagle putt on the 72nd hole.

“He had an outright 12-footer to win the U.S. Open; you wait your entire life for an opportunity like that,” Winkle said. “He told me, ‘You bet I was trying to make that putt.’ But was he trying to knock it 4 feet past, hell no.”

In simplest terms he was trying to win, a reality that makes his insistence that he’s moved on from last year’s championship baggage-free a little easier to digest. Whether or not the media and fans want to believe it is, much like all those near-miss moments, not worth dwelling on.

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After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 3:17 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...

Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner

On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...

Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.

After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.

Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.

A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray

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Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

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Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 2:40 am

PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.

Laura Davies won the day.

It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.

Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.

Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.

For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.

In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.

“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”

At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.

“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”

Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.

“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.

With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.

“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.

“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”

She also relished showing certain fans something.

“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.

In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.

Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.

“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.

After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.

“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”

Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.

In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.

“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”

And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.



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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”