Is Dustin Johnson built to dom­i­nate the game?

Golf World (UK) - - Contents -

The key is­sues to know right now, in­clud­ing DJ’s as­cent to num­ber one, the dom­i­nance of the big hit­ters, and five Tiger rev­e­la­tions.

It used to be, not all that long ago, that reach­ing the top of golf’s world rank­ings re­ally meant some­thing. In eras gone by, it was a ful­fil­ment of youth­ful prom­ise, a val­i­da­tion of the end­less hours spent finely hon­ing your game and a badge of hon­our that only a se­lect few would ever wear.

Judg­ing by the re­cent el­e­va­tion of Dustin Johnson to world num­ber one, how­ever, such ro­man­tic no­tions may well be out­dated.

Hav­ing de­throned Ja­son Day with vic­tory at the Ge­n­e­sis Open on Fe­bru­ary 20, Johnson ad­mit­ted that he hadn’t even been think­ing about

tak­ing over at the top. “I wasn’t re­ally think­ing about my world rank­ing,” he ad­mit­ted. “I look at the world golf rank­ings but it’s not like my goal... I want to win the tour­na­ment I’m play­ing. If I get to No.1 from win­ning the golf tour­na­ment, that’s a bonus.”

In this re­spect, DJ merely echoes the game’s most dom­i­nant world num­ber one, be­cause as Tiger Woods liked to say dur­ing his 683-week run at the top, win­ning takes care of ev­ery­thing. Re­cent his­tory sug­gests that DJ’s ap­proach is a good way to go.

Tough At The Top

Since the world rank­ing be­gan in 1986, only 20 men have reached the top. Be­ing world num­ber one can be ca­reer-defin­ing, or just too much to bear. Dur­ing his 22 weeks at the top, Lee West­wood de­scribed it as “a dream”, though un­like DJ, he reached the top be­fore he landed a ma­jor. Ja­son Day ad­mit­ted that his “whole goal in life was to get to No.1.” Vi­jay Singh’s 32 weeks at the top were “the big­gest achieve­ment of my ca­reer.”

Tiger seemed to feel noth­ing much ei­ther way. Be­ing num­ber one was as nat­u­ral as breath­ing in and breath­ing out, but he noted the pres­sure it brought. “What pre­pares you for the pres­sure of be­ing No.1?” he asked. “Noth­ing. For me it wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily the pres­sure. It was [sim­ply] the sched­ul­ing. I’d never played that much golf around the world.”

The de­mands in­crease when a player as­sumes top spot – from me­dia re­quests and char­i­ta­ble causes, to the length of au­to­graph lines. Not ev­ery­one copes as nat­u­rally as Tiger did.

“Ev­ery­thing is un­der a mi­cro­scope,” be­moaned Martin Kaymer, who hung in for eight weeks. “Ev­ery­body wants to talk to you, ev­ery­body wants some­thing. It’s dif­fi­cult to stay nice. Ex­pec­ta­tions are higher. You are ex­pected to win. There is so much me­dia at­ten­tion; it can get out of con­trol.”

Ernie Els felt sim­i­lar feel­ings over his nine-week run. “You feel, I wouldn’t say ‘lonely’ is the word, but you’re cer­tainly ex­posed,” he said. “You’re walk­ing around with a lot more pres­sure than the guy that’s 50th in the world, I can prom­ise you that.”

Ian Woos­nam be­moaned the ex­tra re­spon­si­bil­ity the po­si­tion brought him over 50 weeks, and the sense that he was “let­ting peo­ple down” if he missed a cut or con­sid­er­ing swing fixes. David Du­val lasted 15 weeks and har­rumphed: “I just wish I could be anony­mous again.”

Even Rory felt the neg­a­tive side-ef­fects over his 95-week reign. When asked, on the day he was de­throned, if the pres­sure had be­come too great, he nod­ded. “I guess, in a way. I’ve had a year to get used to it so it shouldn’t be a prob­lem. But you want to prove that you are world num­ber 1 and that’s not the right way to go about things.”

So what is the right way to go about things – what does DJ need to do to re­main at the top?

Ahead Of The Game

Keep fit and healthy, keep play­ing and keep win­ning, that’s the short an­swer. DJ’s vic­tory at the WGC-Mex­ico event last month sug­gests he has the right recipe. “What­ever he’s do­ing, he just needs to keep do­ing it,” said Ja­son Day. “If he keeps play­ing the way he’s play­ing, we’ve got to pick our game up and just try to com­pete with him.”

What he shouldn’t do, says Dr Joe Par­ent, au­thor of Zen Golf, is at­tempt to change how he plays. “Some num­ber ones – Ian Baker-Finch’s a prime ex­am­ple – think that be­cause they’re world num­ber one they have to play golf bet­ter than any­one else every week, so they ei­ther try too hard or make changes to try to be even bet­ter. That doesn’t work. Dustin needs to trust in the things that got him where he is.”

How long can he re­main on top is the in­evitable fol­low-on ques­tion. Any­thing more than a year would buck re­cent trends, in an era where com­pe­ti­tion is fiercer than ever be­fore. Be­tween April 6, 1986 and Oc­to­ber 30, 2010, 12 dif­fer­ent play­ers held top spot. Since then, eight dif­fer­ent play­ers have reached the sum­mit. While Tiger’s dom­i­nance skews that figure, we’re now clearly in an era where things change faster.

And yet the man best placed to make a pre­dic­tion is ex­pect­ing DJ to now dom­i­nate. “Dustin is the one player out there that I be­lieve will be able to hold No.1

‘In 14 years be­tween 1986 and 2010, 12 play­ers held top men have reached the sum­mit. Tiger skews that stat, but

for a long time,” says Butch Har­mon, DJ’s swing coach since 2009. Har­mon’s a good judge, hav­ing helped Tiger (683 weeks) and Greg Nor­man (331) to the top.

“Dustin has so much con­fi­dence in all parts of his game,” says Har­mon, who has helped him iron out his one key weak­ness. “His short game is bet­ter, and he’s start­ing to be that guy that, when he’s on, he’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to beat.”

The stats back him up. Since the start of 2016, DJ has had top 10 fin­ishes in 20 of 29 tour­na­ments. Since his US Open win last year he’s had 5 wins in 17 starts. Right now he ap­pears built to keep on win­ning. “He’s start­ing to re­mind me of Tiger in the old days,” smiles Har­mon.

Be­ing top of the pile may not mean as much to DJ as it has to oth­ers, but if Har­mon is cor­rect, it’s a feel­ing he’ll have to get used to.

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