After the shocking news Wednesday afternoon that Dustin Johnson had fallen down the stairs and landed hard on his lower back, which was causing extreme discomfort, it didn’t sound promising that the world no. 1 and pre-tournament favorite would be able to tee off and complete the first round of the Masters.
However, DJ arrived at Augusta National Thursday afternoon, saying he was “going to give it a try.” He warmed up and hit balls at the range, where it looked like he was swinging tentatively and with limited motion. DJ walked over to the first tee right before his starting time, but then turned around and withdrew from the Masters.
It sucks. There’s not a more succinct way to describe the situation.
DJ did everything he could to try and ease the pain in his lower left back from the “freak accident” Wednesday evening– he alternated between ice and heat, his trainer did what he could, a doctor paid him a visit at his rental home. During and after his practice session, he spoke at length with his team, including swing coach Butch Harmon. DJ wanted to play. He even told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi en route to the first tee that he was going to “give it a try.” But he realized he just couldn’t.
Smart move. Seriously. I think that’s a really good decision and it’s not worth the potential risk for further injury. I have tons of experience with back injuries and freak accidents, like druggies rear-ending me at 30mph, stepping into random cracks big enough to fit my foot and resulting in bad sprained ankles, and/or falling down an entire flight of stairs, and then attempting to play competitive golf (a long time ago).
Even if it wasn’t a horrible fall, his muscles were likely spasming, which would restrict his movement. And then with time, even overnight, his alignment might have been affected due to the spasms, resulting in loss of flexion and rotation, not to mention pain. It makes it very, very difficult to swing with any confidence and it generally leads to poor swing mechanics from trying to “protect” the back and restricted motion. It’s not a fun way to play golf. Trust me.
“I slipped on the stairs and landed on my low back,” DJ told reporters under the oak tree behind the clubhouse near the first tee. “It’s just real tight. As I was making some swings on the range, it was about 80 percent. And it’s still — it’s just so tight, it just wouldn’t let me ‑‑ I couldn’t get through a backswing. I couldn’t make a good backswing. But every time right at impact it would just catch. So I just don’t feel like there’s any chance of me competing. It hurts.
“I was up pretty much all night, trying to get it ready for today. I’ve been worked on all morning. And obviously I can make some swings, but I try and make my normal swing and I just don’t feel like there’s any chance I’d be able to compete.”
I can’t emphasize enough what a good decision it was in the long run for DJ to play it safe. It doesn’t sound like it’ll impact him in the long run, but as they say, shit happens. And it sucks really badly considering he was in such good form, winning his last three straight tournaments, including two WGCs.
“I want to play,” said DJ. “I’m playing probably the best golf of my career, and I look forward to this tournament every year. And to have a freak accident happen yesterday afternoon after I got back from the course, it’s tough.”
So, this wasn’t a decision that he came to easily, which is pretty obvious given he walked to the first tee before walking off right before his starting time. No matter how uncomfortable he was, I have no doubt DJ really wanted to at least try and compete, but ultimately, he made the right choice and I commend it. It’s not easy for competitors to withdraw and oftentimes athletes come back too early from injuries and/or push themselves only to cause more serious, longterm damage.(I also have a lot of experience in this department, too.)
How in the world did he fall, anyway?
“It was pouring down rain, so I was going to go move the car and I was just wearing my socks,” said Johnson. “So I just slipped as I was going down the stairs. It actually would have been better if it had been the first set of stairs, because I probably would have slid right down it, but it was only three, so I landed right on the bottom, my left elbow is swollen and bruised. I landed on my left side (of my back).”
He plans to get treatment the next couple of days and doesn’t foresee the injury being a longterm concern.
“I’ve got to get it worked on and get adjusted,” said DJ. “Probably another two days and I’d be fine. If it happened on Monday, I don’t think we would have any issues but it happened Wednesday afternoon…
“It would have been great if it’d happened after this because I have three weeks off. I didn’t get much sleep, but that isn’t the issue. I want to play, the issue is I just can’t swing.”
Timing is everything, isn’t it? — whether it’s good or bad.
But I hear you and feel for you, DJ. He probably spared himself more unnecessary pain, trauma and frustration by withdrawing before he teed off because quitting after starting is a worse scenario.
Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.