New dad D. Johnson ready to return from hiatus

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2015, 2:51 am

When Dustin Johnson returns to the PGA Tour in two weeks at the Farmers Insurance Open it will have been six months since last he plied his trade at the highest level, but for the 30-year-old it may as well have been a lifetime ago.

When the eight-time Tour winner finished up his season at the Canadian Open he was, by his own admission, not happy. He was tired of underachieving – again, by his own admission – and needed to reset.

Since then he’s surrounded himself with an assortment of professionals and even a “life coach,” to learn how to deal with stress and the realities of a vastly changing world, none bigger than the birth of Johnson and fiancé Paulina Gretzky’s first child, son Tatum, on Monday.

“He’s awesome. Couldn’t be better. It’s been really, really cool,” Johnson told GolfChannel.com Friday in a one-one-one phone interview.

But then fatherhood doesn’t seem to fully describe the transformation Johnson said he has made in the last six months.

When he bolted the Tour last July “to seek professional help for personal challenges,” few could have predicted how hectic the next few months would be.

Two days after announcing his leave of absence, Golf.com, citing an unnamed source, reported that Johnson had actually been suspended by the Tour for failing his third drug test. Both the Tour and Johnson denied that report.

“No. I’ve already answered all these questions,” Johnson said on Friday when asked about a prior Golf.com report.

He did concede, however, that there were plenty of challenges he needed to face before becoming a father or returning to professional golf. Although he said he didn’t go to a rehabilitation clinic, he did surround himself with people who could teach him how to deal with life’s unpredictability.

“I had to take a look at my goals,” he said. “Finding out Paulina was pregnant I knew it was time to do some soul searching and really work on me. I want to be a great father and a great husband.”

One of those people who stepped in to help was Paulina’s father, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.



Johnson sold his South Florida home, although he has purchased a new home just down the street that he plans to move into once it’s renovated, and spent much of the last six months living in a rented house near Gretzky at Sherwood Country Club outside Los Angeles.

“He’s been great,” Johnson said. “Honestly, you can’t ask for a better role model as far as sports are concerned. The things he’s done in his career no one will ever do. Just having someone like that to talk to. We played golf every day. We see them every day, we have breakfast up there and dinner with them.”

Gretzky taught Johnson how to engage fans and deal with the pressures that come with a high-profile marriage. But mostly Gretzky just listened to a man who has never seemed entirely comfortable in the spotlight and often resorted to self-destructive outlets to deal with his pressures.

“One big thing that I learned was stress. The way I describe it is the way I am on the golf course I act like I don’t get too excited or too down on myself. I kind of transferred that over to life,” Johnson said.

“I always kept things inside. I never dealt with them. When I was drinking, I’d drink too much. Dealing with all that helped a bunch.”

Johnson recently worked with his swing coach, Butch Harmon, who said he’s impressed with the new and improved player, both physically and mentally.

“He seems to have his head on straight and is in great shape,” Harmon said.

A large part of Johnson’s transformation was prompted by the impending birth of his son, but there was also an underlying desire to turn what he says has been a good career into a great one.

Reaching his full potential crystalized in September while he watched the U.S. team – a team he qualified for but didn’t play on following his announced hiatus – at the Ryder Cup.

“The only thing I regret is not playing in the Ryder Cup,” he said. “Everything I have done has been to help me and help my family. Right now I couldn’t be in a better place, and I’m focused on playing as well as I can.”

It will be a 146-mile drive from Los Angeles to Torrey Pines for Johnson’s first start of the year, but that doesn’t come close to the metaphorical distance he seems to have traveled in his return to the Tour.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.