Is DJ's mind his biggest asset?January 10, 2018 Golf News
Not renowned as one of the game's great thinkers, Dustin Johnson's golf brain might be the secret behind his ongoing success
I once had a form of hypnosis to try and help me forget certain aspects of my worst ever golf shot in 1996. Yet I can still remember who I was playing with, what they and I were wearing, what hole it was on, the time of day, my score up to that point, the topic of conversation on the tee and then the aching embarrassment as I lay sod over my golf ball in a failed attempt to conjure up a little flop shot over a greenside bunker.
I then knifed the next shot very nearly into the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club before making one of the best treble bogeys on a hole measuring 132 yards.
I can recall every shank, every disastrous round, every top, every flail out of bounds, every chunked or thinned chip and every yip from within two feet since I picked up a golf club in 1980.
And I’m the normal one. I’m like you and you’re like me. We’re all fine.
Then you have Dustin Johnson.
Despite being on the end of various enormous mental kick-ins, he swims serenely on. People joke about Johnson being a bit slow on the uptake and how he and his brother Austin have a bit of trouble working out the yardages but, for the past 11 seasons now, he’s won on the PGA Tour.
Given most people’s propensity to immediately look for the negative, the first question on most people’s lips on Saturday night was how Johnson would handle playing with a lead after what went on at the WGC in October?
We could all quickly dismiss the 68-63-68 to start with in Shanghai and the 69-68-66 in Kapalua, all we really wanted to talk about was that closing 77.
Welcome to the beautiful mind of Johnson, who might be the very best in the business at batting away bad rounds and terrible breaks.
As Rickie Fowler explained: “DJ’s a guy that forgets pretty quickly. I don’t think he remembers China. So that’s one of the reasons why he is the best player in the world right now. He quickly forgets, moves on.”
So where was Johnson’s head in terms of Shanghai? Surely, like you and I, it was front and centre of every waking thought?
“I really haven’t [thought about it] until Todd [Lewis] just asked me about it 10 minutes ago. It doesn’t matter what I did there. That was two months ago. It’s a different golf course, different part of the world. And golf is so funny, it really doesn’t matter what you did yesterday.”
If only, if only, if only. What about if you can still, as clear as day, remember piping one for your opening gambit in 1987 which probably set you back in taking an iron off the 1st tee for the next 30 years?
What about if you can still vividly recall double-hitting a 30-foot putt, brought on by nerves despite playing on your own after work, in 2006? A magic move that has from that moment onwards never allowed you to strike a single putt of any distance with a conventional grip?
This must just all be bluster, mustn’t it? Why should I, with all my limited skills and physical limitations, be beset with such a vivid memory while Johnson has no recall over what happened in front of millions?
Had the Golf Channel not brought up Shanghai, Johnson claimed that it wouldn’t have even crossed his mind. And, as well as forgetting all the bad stuff and crushing body blows, he equally doesn’t spend any time reflecting on the good bits.
Among Johnson’s back catalogue of cock-ups, near misses and bloopers there is one though that sticks in the craw. You’ll remember the 2010 US Open at none other than Pebble Beach where Johnson led by three on Saturday night? And then trebled the 2nd and doubled the 3rd en route to a possible career-shattering 82? Rest assured, that one really got under DJ’s skin.
“That one probably bothered me until the next day.”
What about the PGA at Whistling Straits later in the year, the one where he led going down the 72nd hole – before unknowingly grounding his club in a non-descript bunker just off the fairway, getting a two-shot penalty and missing out on the play-off?
“I was frustrated for about an hour.”
What about the day after the 2015 US Open when he had a putt to win the US Open, only to take three more shots?
“I slept in a little bit that morning. But, yeah, I played golf the next day after Chambers.”
Better still old Dustin does all this without the use of a psychologist.
Equally as ominous Johnson has a new TaylorMade M4 driver that he loves – “It was the driver is what won me the golf tournament because I really drove it well. I don’t think I hit a bad drive all week” – and a putter that now fits his eye.
In the off-season Johnson was given 12 identical Spider Tour putters but all with a different sight line. Depending on the decorations on the top of the club head, Johnson might have been aiming as much as 10 inches left of the hole on a 15-foot putt. The putter he used for much of the year made him line up one inch left of the target before finding one with a T line on the crown that had him aiming at the middle of the cup. He ended the week in Hawaii sixth on the putting stats and with an eight-shot victory in the bag.
As for the new irons that were put in play in China well they never got another airing.
“I don’t think they made the trip home. They probably are still in my locker at whatever the golf course is called.”
So for all the talk of Johnson not being the sharpest maybe his 15th club, the bit between the ears, might be as devastating as his driver. Jordan Spieth might well be the next Jack Nicklaus in the mental stakes, Johnson’s goldfish-like existence might equally prove to be just as successful.
When asked if a short memory might be one of the greatest strengths for a golfer Johnson replied: “I would imagine. I don’t know, I can’t remember.”