When you think Dustin Johnson, you think raw power.
You think majestic, soaring drives, like the kind he hit to win the 2013 Hyundai Tournament of Champions by four shots over defending champion Steve Stricker and lead the field in driving distance (307 yards). You think jaw-dropping, monster bombs off the tee like his drive Monday at the par-4, 420-yard 12th hole, which traveled a non-mortal 405 yards. When you think Dustin Johnson, you think of 400 yard drives you wish you could hit just once in your lifetime, let alone 12 times since 2003 like Johnson has — more than anyone else on Tour.
But what you really should be thinking is “consistency.”
Dustin Johnson is the Tour’s “Mr. Consistency.”
Now I know what you’re thinking. How can the big hitting Johnson be “Mr. Consistency” when he’s Jekyll & Hyde with the big stick? After all, while Johnson led the field at Kapalua in driving distance, he also finished dead last in fairways hit (51 percent). But consider the following:
With his victory in the 2013 season opener, Johnson became the first player since Tiger Woods (1996 – 2001) to win six consecutive years straight out of college (2008 – 2013). Johnson’s won at least one Tour event in each of the last six seasons, the second longest active streak on Tour behind only Phil Mickelson’s nine (2004 – 2012). And Johnson leads players in their 20s with seven career Tour wins. Players under the age of 30 with three or more victories on Tour include Johnson (7), Rory McIlroy (6), Anthony Kim (3), Webb Simpson (3) and Keegan Bradley (3).
Simply put, Johnson is Mr. Consistency because he wins as regularly as anyone on Tour. And not even poignant images of Johnson’s Pebble Beach triple-bogey meltdown on No. 2 at the 2010 U.S Open, or the eraser marks on Johnson’s 2010 PGA Championship scorecard on No. 18 at Whistling Straits can change that. Johnson’s seventh career Tour win certainly speaks volumes about what he’s accomplished to this point.
In four career attempts carrying the lead into a final round, Johnson had now won twice. He’s also finished in the top 15 of the FedExCup standings in each of the last four years, and inside the top 10 in each of the last three seasons on Tour. But what might be most telling about Johnson’s Hawaiian victory (16-under, 203) in the 2013 season opener, is where Johnson goes from here, and why.
Dipped In Teflon
If you believe Johnson, he never got rattled at the 2010 U.S. Open, and never lost his composure. Whether he’s telling the truth or not? Maybe only Johnson knows for sure. But to his credit, Johnson managed to regroup and win the BMW Championship later that year. And he’s developed a reputation since for routinely coming back from disastrous situations. At the very least, Johnson is uncommonly resilient.
Johnson’s agent David Winkle says Johnson was “dipped in Teflon at birth.” And that’s what explains how Johnson follows up major catastrophes with impressive triumphs. Johnson’s coach, Butch Harmon, likens Johnson to a duck whose back repels water. Analogies aside, you only need to look at the sequence of adventures yesterday on The Plantation Course, holes No. 12 and No. 13, to witness Johnson’s poise.
On No. 12, Johnson’s judgment was questioned when he pulled out driver, when the safe play would have been 3 iron off the tee. And after Johnson unceremoniously hooked his ball into bushes and tall grass behind a fairway bunker, hushed whispers of another potential Johnson meltdown trickled through the crowd.
Johnson tried unsuccessfully to punch it out of the vegetation, and required a third shot to finally get out of trouble. But when all was said and done, Johnson took a double-bogey, and saw his lead over Stricker shrink to just one stroke with six holes to play.
Live By The Driver, Die By The Driver
One of the biggest complaints about Johnson’s game has always been his decision making. Critics say they can live with errant shots off the tee when Johnson uses driver for holes that call for driver. But when holes call for another club off the tee, and Johnson elects driver anyway, finding unnecessary hazards or worse? That’s when Johnson’s decision making, judgment, and even maturity are called into question.
After Johnson hit what might have been his worst drive of the tournament on No. 13, everyone on Kapalua Island was expecting Johnson to hit iron on the drivable par-4 14th. But instead, Johnson again pulled out his driver.
“I’ve done it enough times that it doesn’t really bother me anymore,” Johnson said after the round. “I’ve been in this situation enough now and I’ve made enough double-bogeys in my life.”
That’s the fearlessness Johnson plays with. That’s the confidence Johnson has in his driver. That’s the resliency Johnson commands to bounce back from disaster. And that’s also why we love to watch Johnson play. Though Johnson’s critics say that’s the foolish part of the game that will keep failing him when the pressure is higher at major championships.
But on this blustery Hawaiin Monday in January, with the tournament on the line, Johnson ripped his drive down the middle of the fairway, only 50 feet from the pin. And when he fired in an eagle chip to go back up three strokes, Johnson showed his detractors he’s always going to trust the club that defines him.
“The chip on 14 was definitely the biggest shot,” Johnson said. “Maybe the drive, the drive set it up all.”
Worth The Wait
The question now remains — can Johnson parlay this Pacific swell of momentum to start the season into his first major championship victory?
“I don’t really look ahead that far,” Johnson said. “I kind of go week-to-week. I’m looking at next week where I want to go in and play three good rounds and then contend on Sunday for another victory. That’s my goal.”
Until Johnson wins a major, fairly or not, he won’t be able to escape being known for his 2010 major meltdowns. But shots Johnson wished he could have made in 2010, he can make today. And Johnson’s worked diligently with Harmon to become a better short game player than he was in 2010.
Johnson’s still about power, but his arsenal now also includes finesse. Johnson’s simply in a better place to win a major in 2013 than he was in 2010. And in that regard, maybe most importantly, Johnson seems to understand that you need to experience past failures before you can move on to present and future successes. Rory needed them. Even Tiger and Jack needed them.
“Most of the guys out here, especially a lot of good players, they’ve all gone through the same thing,” Johnson said. “They’ve all done it. It’s a learning process that I think everybody is going to go through at least once in their career. So you can’t look at it as a bad thing.”
Johnson’s never been healthier, stronger, or more dedicated than he is this season. He played six rounds at The Plantation Course to prepare for the event. And Johnson knows good things are on the horizon.
“If I keep playing golf like I’m playing right now, then obviously there is no limit,” Johnson said.
With experience and resiliency also on his side in 2013, and that storied power still locked and loaded, Johnson expects to once and for all remove himself this season from discussions about the best player on Tour yet to win a major.