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.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.