DJ hopes to return to winning ways after injury

By Rex HoggardMay 3, 2017, 6:49 pm

WILMINGTON, N.C. – This wasn’t the first time Dustin Johnson found himself on the disabled list. Nor was it his first dance with a competitive hiatus and the uncertainty of injury.

DJ missed the Masters in 2012 with a back injury he said he sustained while lifting a Jet Ski. All total, Johnson was off the shelf for nearly three months for that ailment, so the back injury that forced him to miss this year’s Masters should be easy to recover from by comparison, right?

But that logic ignores the 6-foot-4, 190-pound elephant in the room.

When Johnson walked off the putting green on Thursday at Augusta National last month he was the consensus man to beat after taking over the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking with his victory at Riviera. He’d won his previous three starts, including a pair of World Golf Championships with a Genesis Open high card.

He led the PGA Tour in every statistical category that matters, from driving distance to greens in regulation, and had become the kind of player others had started to eye wearily every time his name found its way on a leaderboard.

“Those kind of runs are more like what we saw from Tiger for so many years where he just continued to perform at a high level every time he pegged it up,” Adam Scott said on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Championship.

DJ’s also 32 years old.

That’s not old, not in golf years, particularly when Johnson has the physical prowess of a NFL cornerback. But when he slipped walking down the stairs of his rental house on the eve of the year’s first major it was more than his lower back that took a hit.


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Although Johnson – who is making his first start this week since taking that tumble – is normally not one for esoteric thoughts, there were hints on Wednesday when he spoke at Eagle Point Golf Club that this most recent setback had a psychological toll.

“I was on a good roll, playing the best golf of my career leading into Augusta,” Johnson said. “I've had a lot more time off than I would have liked to have had. Still feel like I'm swinging really well, hit a few good shots out there today, but we'll just have to see.”

For some the hardest part of expectations is trying to measure up to the external, and often unrealistic, pressures. For DJ, it was not getting the chance to prove he was worthy of all the acclaim that was the hardest part.

He’d been a player with untold potential for over a decade, but his victory last year at the U.S. Open seemed to brush away all of those missed opportunities. As he turned onto Magnolia Lane last month there was a unmistakable sense of confidence.

With a single step that unstoppable train took an unexpected detour.

Despite that disappointment, it doesn’t appear as if doubt, which has never been a part of DJ’s DNA, will play a role in his return.

He admitted that there were a few dark moments as he watched the closing drama last month at the Masters, but few, if any, are able to compartmentalize like Johnson.

“It just happens. Crazy things happen,” he said. “The only time it was maybe tough was just watching the tournament, but after watching it after Sunday, it's been fine.”

Johnson said he didn’t feel entirely comfortable with his swing until last Friday and needed the better part of three weeks before he was able to train and practice like he wanted.

Claude Harmon III – who works with Johnson between sessions with his father, Butch – spent last Friday with DJ at the Floridian in south Florida practicing and playing nine holes.

“He looks good, pretty much normal. His speed looks almost 100 percent,” Harmon said. “He joked and said he is still going for four in a row, so I like the way he’s thinking.”

There’s no reason to think Johnson can’t pick up where he left off, but previous form and current fortune are often mutually exclusive.

Johnson’s WD at the Masters marked the sixth time the world No. 1 has missed a major and historically the “next start” is a mixed bag. Greg Norman posted the only top-10 (T-9 at the PGA Championship) after missing the 1988 Open.

Johnson would have history on his side here, having won his second start back in ’12 (FedEx St. Jude Classic) after injuring his back and few would consider one of the game’s most fit players a physical liability regardless of his health status.

“I expect to play well. I feel like I haven't practiced much, but I've practiced enough to compete,” Johnson said.

This most recent brush with mortality was different than past experiences. This time, the stakes and expectations, both internally and otherwise, were higher; but for Johnson only the calendar has changed.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.