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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: How Dustin Johnson dominated the Travelers Championship

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In “Ways to Win,” we track the PGA Tour winner’s rounds using the V1 Game mobile app and then analyze how they got the job done using the same tools available to V1 Game users.

A short golf course by PGA Tour standards, at roughly 6,900 yards, TPC River Highlands seemed like a match made in Heaven for 54-hole Travelers Championship leader Brendon Todd. Todd had not made a bogey since the fourth hole of the tournament and seemed in complete control until Dustin Johnson lit up the short track on Saturday to jump into the final group. Johnson continued that tear into Sunday, taking the solo lead by the ninth hole and holding on through an eventful back nine that included a weather delay for lightning.

Scorecard Heatmap

For the last two weeks, PGA Tour winners have separated themselves with birdies and shot-making down the stretch. However, this weekend was different. Johnson took the lead at the turn and held on to overcome some sketchy ball striking to capture the title. The V1 Game scorecard Heatmap clearly shows Johnson hit poor tee shots on holes 13 and 16 with short game and putting helping him hang on to a single-stroke victory.

Strokes Gained

Dustin Johnson winning a PGA Tour event is not surprising. This was his 21st career victory and he has won at least one tournament each year for the last 13 PGA Tour seasons. However, the way he did it would surprise the casual golf fan who thinks of Dustin Johnson as a prototypical bomber.

Taking a look at Johnson’s round-by-round Strokes Gained performance using the Strokes Gained Stacked plot from V1 Game gives more clarity into how he got it done.

Glancing at the bars in the Strokes Gained Stacked chart, each color represents a different area of Strokes Gained performance (blue – Driving, green – Approach, yellow – Short Game, red – Putting). In round 1, DJ struggled in all areas of the game, gaining just 0.6 strokes on the field. That put him in 79th place and in danger of missing the cut. In Round 2, Johnson put together a well-rounded performance, gaining strokes in all four areas and comfortably making the weekend to set up for a tremendous third round. In Round 3, Johnson blitzed the field and rocketed up the leaderboard—however, he didn’t do it with just his driver—he did it primarily with his iron play and his putter.

He shot a 61 with nine birdies and no bogeys. In his final round 67, Dustin Johnson actually lost almost three strokes off the tee, making up for it in the other three areas, particularly with his new putter. Not exactly the work of your stereotypical bomber. Johnson has a tremendously well-rounded game and it showed this weekend.

Shot-by-Shot

With V1 Game, we can look even deeper to see just how Johnson lost strokes off the tee. The main culprit being the 13th hole, where he piped a driver down the left, rolling out of bounds by just a few inches. Forced to re-tee, this penalty automatically cost him two strokes, as indicated in the shot-by-shot window to the left. V1 Game quantifies the quality of every shot using Strokes Gained data to allow users to see exactly how they performed on every shot. Luckily for DJ, he minimized the damage of a poor tee shot by following it up with a good one and a clutch seven-foot putt to save bogey. Holing that putt relieved a great deal of stress and likely sealed the tournament for Johnson.

Three Keys

The key to playing quality golf and winning tournaments is minimizing mistakes and Johnson did that this week. Looking at V1 Game’s “Three Keys,” Dustin Johnson had one three-putt, one two-chip, and just one penalty for 72 holes. Two of those three errors came in his final six holes, when the tournament was largely out of reach for the majority of the field.

V1 Game identifies problem areas and gives instant performance feedback in the post-round summary. For Johnson, it is clear that he had a “Poor Driving Day,” losing 2.7 strokes.

V1 Game also tells us why. He had two driving errors (hitting a tee shot into a penalty or recovery situation) and he missed to the left 43 percent of the time. This would be an area he would want to closely monitor under pressure situations to see if that trend holds. However, if you’re making 102 feet of putts, you can afford a mistake or two down the stretch.

Much can be learned from seeing how the pros manage the course and get it done from day to day with different parts of their game. As amateurs, the fastest way to improve is to know where you need to work.

Download V1 Game in the app store today and start tracking your golf performance like the pros. Click here to download V1 Game.

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Podcasts

TG2: Review of the TaylorMade P790 irons | A sneaky good driver you don’t know about!

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TaylorMade’s P790 irons are on review and a great option for players looking for distance and forgiveness in a “players” package. The XXIO X Series driver is sneaky good and you have probably never heard of it!

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The Gear Dive: DJ, Bryson’s length, and putters with TaylorMade’s Bill Price and Paul Demkowski

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In this episode of TGD, Johnny goes in on when Tiger might play, Bryson’s bulk, and goes in deep with Bill Price and Paul Demkowski of TaylorMade on the success of Spider X and Truss.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Ball flight and spin rate, Part 2

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This past week, I was out at our club doing some research on launch angles and spin rates. My “Iron Byron” was our first assistant golf professional Joe Mitchell, who is one of the most consistent ball strikers I’ve seen. Joe has a reputation for being laser straight with every club, from driver to wedges, and is one of the best putters I’ve watched. The only “flaw” in Joe’s game, which he admits, is that he is not nearly as long as the young guns.

After we had finished up the round of research on various makes and models of short irons and wedges, Joe had a couple of drivers he wanted to test to see if he could eke a few extra yards out of his tee shots. Watching him hit golf balls is kind of boring actually, because they all look alike. As we went from driver to driver, there really wasn’t much visual difference in the ball flight pattern, but then the Foresight Sports GC2 launch monitor came into play.

It’s generally accepted that optimum distance with a driver is going to be at a launch angle of 13-16 degrees with spin rates in the 2,000-2,200 range. Very few golfers outside the tour elite can match these numbers, so most golfers do not get the maximum distance out of their clubhead speed.

Joe hit a number of drives with both drivers, and then a few with mine, and all were about perfect in launch angle – 13-15 degrees. But we kept seeing spin rates of 3,500-3,900 RPMs, which is way more than you’d like for a driver. He tweaked his takeaway and worked to keep the head moving flatter through the impact zone, but we really didn’t see much change in the numbers. Then I suggested that he back off about 10 in his applied swing speed and see what happened…

His spin number dropped from 35-3900 to 26-2800 rpms, launch angles did not change, ball speed off the clubhead did not change more than one mph or so, but distance improved by almost ten yards! So, the mere act of backing off a bit from “full power” actually improved his driving distance, and there’s no question that even Joe is going to hit the driver straighter if he’d not trying to “max out” on every swing.

We duplicated the test a number of times, Joe hitting drives at full power then backing off a bit. And the results were the same every time–the “controlled” swing produced about 1,000 RPMs less spin and greater distance than did the full out swings.

So, while you may not have a GC2 launch monitor available, you can do your own version of this test. Take a dozen or so balls that you play, mark half of them, and go out on the course when it’s not busy. Hit six drives with your “full power” swing, and then six more with a swing that feels like 85-90 percent of that. Then walk or drive down and see what the two patterns look like.

And then chime back in here with your results. Let’s see if we can’t build a body of real golfer test material right here, OK?

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