So close to major glory, DJ only finds more heartbreak

By Will GrayJune 22, 2015, 4:42 am

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – As Jordan Spieth sat ready to hoist the U.S. Open trophy on the 18th green at Chambers Bay, and Louis Oosthuizen eagerly received his second-place medal, fellow runner-up Dustin Johnson was conspicuously absent.

Which is a shame, since he might have gotten some extra hardware for losing the tournament twice on the same afternoon.

Already one of the most decorated players on the PGA Tour, Johnson took an opportunity to erase years of heartbreak and instead turned it into one of the biggest 72nd-hole gut punches in major championship history.

Hey, Doug Sanders? Scott Hoch? It’s DJ on Line 1. Time to increase the membership list of golf’s most inconsolable fraternity.

Johnson knows all about losing majors in agonizing fashion, but this one was supposed to be different. Here he stood, on the 72nd hole with the tournament hanging on his clubface, poised and confident and ready to grab his first major trophy with both hands. The pain of years past, the near-misses that kept him from earning a spot among the game’s upper echelon, were all about to be washed away.

After two mighty lashes on the home hole, the target was within range. Just like at Whistling Straits, except this time there was nary a bunker to get in his way.

But minutes later, the scene still reverted back to 2010, as a stunned Johnson took off his cap, brushed aside his hair and wondered what in the world had just happened.

Another opportunity missed. Another chance wasted.

Full-field scores: 115th U.S. Open

For much of the day, the stage appeared to be his. After relying on his drives all week, equal parts mammoth and accurate, Johnson coolly broke from a quartet of co-leaders, making the turn in 33 and building a two-shot lead.

Spieth had stalled, Jason Day was struggling and the path was clear for him to stride forward and accept the hardware that had eluded him.

Instead, his putter betrayed him – slowly at first, and then all at once when it mattered the most.

Johnson lost the U.S. Open for the first time on a four-hole stretch of Chambers Bay’s inward half, missing four straight putts from less than 7 feet. Three of those miscues led to bogeys, and an hour after holding the top spot Johnson was suddenly trailing by two.

“I didn’t make any putts today, I really didn’t,” Johnson said. “I had all the chances in the world.”

It was the putter, after all, that kept Johnson from turning this thing into a rout.

For four rounds, he murdered the ball off the tee and flip-wedged his way around a challenging track, only to fail to capitalize on chance after chance. That trend reared its head at the end of his second round, when he squandered a lead with three bogeys across his final five holes, and it popped up again down the stretch.

“If I rolled the putter halfway decent today,” Johnson surmised, “I win this thing by a few shots, it’s not even close.”

Johnson faltered as Spieth took command, and at that point the script appeared to be written in ink – here lies DJ, once again the victim of a slow bleed in the final round of the U.S. Open, just like his Pebble Beach implosion from five years ago.

But then Spieth made an uncharacteristic error, Johnson hit a great shot at the right time on the 71st hole, and the slate was somehow once again wiped clean.

After reaching the par-5 18th green with a 353-yard drive and an easy 5-iron, he was back on the doorstep of redemption. Thirteen feet were all that remained – 4 yards of fescue and poa and dirt to cleanse him from past sins.

“On the last green, just talking to my brother (caddie Austin Johnson), this is exactly why I’m here,” Johnson said. “This is why I play the game of golf. I’ve got a chance to win the U.S. Open on the last hole.”

As the gallery waited for its cue, Johnson’s eagle effort slid by the hole. Not ideal, but not a problem – only 4 feet stood between him and a Monday playoff with Spieth.

But seconds later, the crowd’s anticipated eruption turned into a hair-raising gasp. In the span of two quick misses and a tap-in par, it was all gone.

“Whatever that putt did on the last hole, I don’t know,” he said of his birdie attempt. “I might have pulled it a little bit, but still to me it looked like it bounced left. It’s tough. It’s difficult.”

“I very much feel for Dustin,” Spieth said. “He deserves to be holding the trophy as much as I do, I think, this week. It just came down to him being the last one to finish, and I was able to have one hole to rebound from my mistakes, and he wasn’t able to get that hole afterwards.”

Johnson turns 31 on Monday, a prime age for golfers. He has shown signs of change this year, of maturing from the player whose checkered past continues to haunt him. Now a father and again a winner on Tour after a six-month leave of absence, everything appeared in order this week for his signature win.

Instead, he was left to offer another series of half-hearted platitudes.

“Starting the week, all you want is to have a chance to win on the back nine on Sunday,” he said. “I did that. I put myself in position, I hit the shots I needed to hit. I just didn’t get it in the hole quick enough.”

As his seat at the trophy ceremony sat empty, Johnson was whisked away from the makeshift locker room at Chambers Bay, off to catch a flight with fiancée Paulina Gretzky and their son, Tatum, by his side.

“I did everything I could,” he said. “I gave myself looks, just wasn’t my time.”

With the creation of this latest layer of scar tissue, somehow more cruel and shocking than all of the others, it seems reasonable to wonder if his time will ever come.

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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. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.