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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

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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Opinion & Analysis

“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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Opinion & Analysis

12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Valero Texas Open

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With one of the weakest fields of the year, TPC San Antonio hosts the Valero Texas Open this week. Only one player from the top-20 in the Official World Golf Rankings will tee it up here. That man is Sergio Garcia, who co-designed this course with Greg Norman.

Just like last week at the RBC Heritage, the wind can wreak havoc at TPC San Antonio. The course features an exposed layout, making the level of wind is often unpredictable. Expect it to be a factor yet again this year. Unlike last week, the longer hitters do have an advantage on this course, which measuring more than 7,400 yards with little rough off the tee.

Last year, Kevin Chappell held off a charging Brooks Koepka to post 12-under par and win his first title on the PGA Tour.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Sergio Garcia 14/1
  • Matt Kuchar 18/1
  • Charley Hoffman 18/1
  • Luke List 25/1
  • Ryan Moore 28/1
  • Kevin Chappell 28/1
  • Adam Scott 30/1

From the top of the market, it’s hard not to love Luke List (25/1, DK Price $10,000) this week. The big-hitting American is still looking for his first win on the PGA Tour, but he is knocking on the door relentlessly. In his last eight events, List has finished no worse than T-26.

He was so close once again last week, and he should take plenty of confidence from that performance onto a course that theoretically should suit him much better. On this long track, List will have a significant advantage as one of the longest hitters on Tour. Over his last 24 rounds, he ranks 5th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 1st in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green. List is also flushing his irons. He was second in the field last week for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, and over his previous 24 rounds he sits 3rd in the same category.

It’s not only his long game that is highly proficient right now, either. List’s short game has been stellar over this impressive stretch, too. He ranks 8th for Strokes Gained-Around the Green and 28th for Strokes Gained-Short Game over his last 24 rounds.

The one department holding the big man back is his putting, where he ranks 145th for the season. The rest of his game is so sharp at the moment that he’s in the enviable position of not needing that hot a week with the flat-stick to win. He only needs an average week on the greens to finally break through and claim his first PGA Tour event. There’s nothing to suggest List isn’t going to play well once more this week, and at 25/1 he seems undervalued.

Returning to a track that he adores, Brendan Steele (33/1, DK Price $8,900) is always a danger at this event. As well as winning the title here in 2011, Steele has finished in the top-20 three times since then. Whatever it is about TPC San Antonio, it’s a course that brings out the best in Steele’s game.

It’s been an excellent season for the West Coast native, too. He won his opening event of the season at the Safeway Open and has since finished in the top-30 six times. One of the main reasons for his strong run of form has been his work with the driver. Steele is ranked 1st in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee over his last 24 rounds, and he has only failed to post a positive Strokes Gained statistic in this category once since this event last year.

Recently, Steele’s game is showing trends that he may once more be close to hitting the form that saw him win at the back end of last year. In his previous 24 rounds, the Californian is ranked 10th in Ball Striking and 7th in Strokes Gained-Total. Always a threat at this event, Steele is coming into this week with all parts of his game in sync. He should be a live threat once more in San Antonio.

Another man who has played well all year is Xander Schauffele (35/1, DK Price $8,800). The Californian has made seven of eight cuts this year, and he has finished in the top-25 in four of those occasions. Excellent off the tee, TPC San Antonio should suit the 24-year-old this week, too. Schaufelle ranks 7th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 17th in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his last 24 rounds.

With wind likely to play a factor this week, pure ball striking will be necessary. That shouldn’t be an issue for Xander, who sits 7th in Strokes Gained-Ball Striking over his last 24 rounds. There is nothing off about Schauffele’s game right now. He ranks 21st in Strokes Gained-Putting over his previous 12 rounds and 5th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green over the same period. It’s only a matter of time before the two-time PGA Tour winner puts himself in the thick of contention again, and there’s no reason why it can’t be this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Luke List 25/1, DK Price $10,000
  • Brendan Steele 33/1, DK Price $8,900
  • Xander Schauffele 35/1, DK Price $8,800
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