Maybe a little time off was just the prescription Dustin Johnson needed to snag his sixth-career PGA Tour victory, the most of any player in his 20s, at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Due to a back injury in March, DJ was forced to take almost a three-month vacation from competitive golf. He also estimated that he went six weeks without hitting balls.
Despite the long layoff, Johnson dusted off most of the rust at The Memorial (T19) and then shined in his second start since returning from the DL in Memphis, firing a four-under 66 to hold off John Merrick by a shot.
What’s more, Dustin drained an 11-footer on No. 16 and an eight-footer on No. 17 to birdie two of the final three holes to come through in the clutch. “Putting” and “clutch” are not two words I’ve often used in the same sentence when referring to Dustin Johnson. I know he was frustrated with his putting early in the season — not with his stroke, but his confidence was a little shot because the ball wasn’t dropping. It certainly didn’t look like he had problems finding the bottom of the cup this week. At least not when it mattered.
As we all know, DJ has been successful in Northern California — he’s won twice at the Tour event at Pebble Beach and then, of course, he held a three-shot lead going into the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open, which disappeared quickly with that…errr…interesting left-handed chip on No. 2, where he posted a triple-bogey seven and ended up shooting 82.
Dustin doesn’t really let “stuff” get to him. He could care less what people think (a la those rumors regarding his absence) and he seems to have the skill advantageous to many great golfers — a short memory.
Maybe it’s something in the grass in the Bay Area (that includes the Monterey Peninsula, right?). “Conventional wisdom” says that Olympic Club doesn’t fit bombers — you can’t just step up with a driver and let it rip. It’s a taxing mental test in pure U.S. Open-style. You have to control the ball off the tee and hit it certain distances because of the slope of the fairways. Many holes are doglegs with the fairways tilting the opposite direction, which lends to balls rolling into the rough if you’re not precise. And if you want a chance at keeping the ball on the green or controlling it, you don’t want to be in that thick, gnarly stuff, especially hitting into small targets in fast and firm conditions.
My opinion is that maybe bombers haven’t traditionally won at Olympic, but it’s 2012 — not 1998, 1987, 1966 or 1955. (However, I do like bringing up the “tradition” of U.S. Opens here that have resulted in “disappointments” for the favorites.) If you’re striking the ball well, then you’re striking the ball well. As long as DJ isn’t tempted to pull driver on every tee shot and reels it back, then he’s set. Hint: Listen to Bobby B.
Key is keeping him focused and patient (and not “pulling a Dustin Johnson” — a la Pebble Beach in 2010, Whistling Straits in 2010, Royal St. Georges in 2011). From the sounds of it, that’s a challenge for anyone at Olympic.
Winning the week before a major hasn’t fared well for players, historically. I, for one, wouldn’t mind doing what Rory McIlroy did and doubling the last hole. Not that I’d try to choke it away, but it’d be a lot easier to forget when you have bigger, major goals on your mind. Given Dustin’s long layoff, I don’t think it’d necessarily hurt him just because I’m sure he’s been itching to play after being sidelined for almost three months.
Only caveat is to be prepared for those questions about his near-misses, and more important than handling them, is somehow wiping it out of your mind when it’s game time. I suspect as much as Dustin says he lets things roll off his back, those things get to him more than we think. Just a guess.
“I wasn’t worried about the (U.S.) Open today,” said Dustin in his post-round presser. “I was worried about winning the FedEx (St. Jude Classic). Next is a whole different week. It has nothing to do with this week.
“I’m going to go out and get a game plan together to play that golf course and stick with it. Hopefully just give myself a chance to win on Sunday.”
(Getty Images/Andy Lyons)