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Opinion & Analysis

Dustin Johnson: Mr. Consistency

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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 2013 Hyundai Tournament Of Champions TheGreekGrind Pappas 4

Mr. 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.

Dustin Johnson 2013 Hyundai Tournament Of Champions TheGreekGrind Pappas 5

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.

Dustin Johnson 2013 Hyundai Tournament Of Champions TheGreekGrind Pappas 3

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.”

Dustin Johnson 2013 Hyundai Tournament Of Champions TheGreekGrind Pappas 2

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.

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Pete is a journalist, commentator, and interviewer covering the PGA Tour, new equipment releases, and the latest golf fashions. Pete's also a radio and television personality who's appeared multiple times on ESPN radio, and Fox Sports All Bets Are Off. And when he's not running down a story, he's at the range working on his game. Above all else, Pete's the proud son of a courageous mom who battled pancreatic cancer much longer than anyone expected. You can follow Pete on twitter @PGAPappas

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Lawrence Williams

    Jan 17, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Great job Pete!

  2. Rick Rappaport

    Jan 16, 2013 at 11:26 am

    A fine job Mr. Pappas! It’s refreshing to see an article like this because it shakes up the media created
    impression that these pga pros are one dimensional—this guy is a bomber, this guy is a putter, this guy
    is a greens in reg..and so on.

    This article is a reality check. Players do not get to this level with one dimension otherwise Jamie Sadlowski
    the long drive phenom would be here and along with gazillions of other one dimensional phenoms. Sure it helps when you drive 325 yards and you have a wedge into a stout 450 par 4, but you also have to hit it straight and putt well too. And, if you miss the green you have to have that game too.

    So it’s good for Mr. Pappas to gently nudge our collective heads in the direction of what it really takes to rise to the top of this most honorable and difficult profession.

  3. Victor

    Jan 9, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Johnson will never be taken seriously until he wins a major. Sweet drives though and fun to watch, but I don’t think he’s going win one this year. Plus consistency means finishing atop the leader board week in week out, not just wins. Great article though. Definitely gets me siked for 2013.

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Courses

Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers to many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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Opinion & Analysis

Be Curious, Not Critical, of Tour Player Swings

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After a foul ball by a tour player, the talking heads on TV are often quick to analyze the “problem” with that swing. Fair enough, I suppose. Even the best players are human and our game has more failure than success. But I’d like to offer a different take on swings of the best players in the world.

First, let’s remember how good these guys and gals really are. If you met up with the lowest ranked player on any professional tour at a public course one day, I’ll bet that golfer would be the best golfer most of you have ever played with. You’d be telling your buddies in the 19th hole about him or her for a very long time. These players have reached a level of ball striking most people only dream about. That’s why I’m more curious than critical when it comes to a tour player’s swing. I’m not thinking about what he/she needs to do better; I’m thinking, “How do they do it so well?” In other words, I want to know how they put their successful move together. What part goes with the other parts? How did their pattern evolve? What are the compatible components of their swing?

Let’s use Jim Furyk as an example. Furyk has what we might call an “unconventional” move. It’s also a swing that has won nearly $70 million and shot 58 one day. But I’ll offer him as an example because his swing illustrates the point I’m making. From a double-overlapping grip, Furyk picks the golf club up to what might be the most vertical position one would ever see from a professional. Then in transition, he flattens the club and drops it well behind him. Now the club is so flat and inside, he has to open his body as quickly as he can to keep the club from getting “stuck.” Let’s call it an “up-and-under loop.”

Let’s take Matt Kuchar as a counter example. Kuchar’s signature hands-in, flat and very deep takeaway is pretty much the total opposite of Furyk. But he comes over that takeaway and gets the club back into a great position into impact. We’ll call that an “in-and-over” loop.

Both are two of the best and most consistent golfers in the world. Is one right and the other wrong? Of course not. They do have one thing in common, however, and it’s that they both balanced their golf swing equation.

What would happen if Kuchar did what Furyk does coming down? Well, he wouldn’t be on TV on the weekend. If he did, he’d be hitting drop kicks several inches behind. That doesn’t win The Players Championship. The point is that the Furyk downswing is incompatible with the Kuchar backswing, and vice versa, but I’m guessing they both know that.

How can this help you? My own personal belief and the basis of my teaching is this: your backswing is an option, but your downswing is a requirement. I had one student today dropping the arms and club well inside and another coming over the top, and they both felt better impact at the end of the lesson. I showed them how to balance their equation.

My job is solving swing puzzles, a new one very hour, and I’m glad it is. It would be mind-numbing boredom if I asked every golfer to do the same thing. It’s the teaching professional’s job to solve your puzzle, and I assure you that with the right guidance you can make your golf swing parts match. Are there universal truths, things that every golfer MUST do?  Yes, they are the following:

  1. Square the club face
  2. Come into the ball at a good angle
  3. Swing in the intended direction
  4. Hit the ball in the center of the face (method be damned!)

But here’s the funny part: Let Kuchar or Furyk get off base and watch every swing critic in the world blame some part of the quirkiness of their move that has led to their greatness. When players at their level get off their game, it’s generally due to poor timing or that they lost the sync/rhythm that connected their individual parts. The same holds true for all of us. We have to find the matching parts and the timing to connect them. You might not need new parts.

After all, weren’t those same parts doing the job when you shot your career low round?

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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