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Dustin Johnson: The Burning Questions Heading into 2015

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It’s been nearly five months since this happened. And then this. And then this. Oh, we can’t forget about that. Or this (unverified rumor, to be clear). And of course this.

Yep, a strange few months for Dustin Johnson and golf.

That initial period of hectic rumor-mongering is over though, and the American’s stay on his leave of absence (or whatever you believe it to be) is nearing its conclusion.

How do we unravel this power-hitting puzzle? Here is a breakdown of the most tantalizing questions about Johnson, maybe golf’s greatest enigma, heading into 2015.

When will Johnson return to competition?

For those of you who haven’t followed the 30-year-old’s whereabouts following his shocking July announcement, Tim Rosaforte has provided us the answer…or at least a well-educated guess.

The veteran golf scribe spoke with members of Johnson’s team (manager, coach and trainer) and was able to obtain that the American is planning to return to golf tentatively at the Farmers Insurance Open, which starts Feb. 5.

Tentative is the operative word. Schedules can change, and these reports also state Johnson iterating that he will wait until his fiance Paulina Gretzky gives birth to the couples’ first child before he competes again. We do not know the due date, so his return date could easily be pushed back.

When he returns, how will Johnson address the questions about his sabbatical?

Johnson has never been an expansive guy in interviews, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially in today’s hypersensitive media age. Those are just the facts.

I assume he will start out with a statement of his own, and when it comes to media questions, I expect vague answers. Of course, he will likely get direct questions about whether he was suspended, prior drug use, etc.

Before Johnson’s leave of absence, his agent had once answered questions about whether his client had ever been suspended by the PGA Tour with a swift “no.”  That response hasn’t changed, nor will it to queries on any of the topics in question.

If you expect real, meaty answers here, disappointment will ensue.

Will the players welcome him back?

Dustin Johnson Phil Mickelson

Gary Van Sickle already covered this one, and I agree with his assessment. There have never been any reports of players disliking Johnson, and the PGA Tour pros tend not to be too judgmental about a colleague’s problems. I’m doubtful Johnson will receive many cold shoulders in his return.

Does Johnson appear ready to return to competition?

Well, he’s keeping his whereabouts a secret, and is by proxy seen by few people. Because of that, our only source material here is the members of team Johnson that I noted above. Clearly this is a biased group whose encouraging words must be taken with several grains of salt.

That being said, even adjusting for this healthy skepticism, the reports on Johnson’s offseason are positive.

Apparently he put up his sticks for eight weeks and then furiously got to work. According to his people, Johnson is committing to his physique like never before, completing a heavy amount of biking along with strenuous two-a-day workouts. And his practice sessions have been quite focused and pristine as well.

His course-record-setting round of 61 at Sherwood Country Club, if true, is a good touch, too. Butch Harmon, who once called out Johnson as a guy who was outworked by everybody else in the top 10, says he’s cautiously optimistic about Johnson.

Trust what you want to trust, but it doesn’t appear Johnson is lollygagging in his absence.

If Johnson slips up significantly in 2015, will sponsors treat him like a landmine as they did for Tiger in 2010?

Dustin Johnson Tiger Woods

If you remember, the 2010 season wasn’t a fond one for Woods. Three sponsors — Gatorade, Accenture and AT&T — kicked him to the curb outright within months of the scandal’s beginning. Three more would drop or mutually split with Woods by the end of 2011.

But the circumstances around Woods were just too singular for Johnson to be hit with the same exodus.

That being said, I’d keep an eye on Johnson and TaylorMade.

The two have been together since the American’s pro debut, but company CEO Ben Sharpe admitted last month that TaylorMade and Johnson have had exactly zero contact since the news of Johnson’s “leave of absence” broke.

Sharpe’s quotes don’t convey any annoyance, but being mum with a long-term main sponsor that stood by you in turbulent times isn’t exactly a recipe for a satisfied employer.

TaylorMade’s contract with Johnson ends at the close of 2015. With the deadline looming so near, wouldn’t a particularly poor on-course season or a clear lack of personal growth from Johnson at least tempt the equipment giant into axing its long-bombing bad boy?

I’m not saying a split here is probable or even that likely. It’s just something to think about considering the context of Johnson’s absence, his lack of communication and the specter of his expiring contract.

What should we expect from Johnson on-course in 2015?

Dustin Johnson WGC

Year-to-year, however, the 30-year-old is remarkably similar in performance. In his six full PGA Tour seasons following his rookie year, Johnson has averaged 1.1 wins, 6.7 top-10s and 10.2 top-25s per year, with a 82 percent made cut rate.

And basically every single year, his numbers cling close to those averages. His wins have fluctuated between 1 and 2 per season, his top-10s between 5 and 9, his top-25s between 8 and 12 and his made cut rate between 73 and 89 percent.

Those are remarkably small ranges.

My point? I know the story of a catastrophic downfall in performance or a rise to superstardom in the wake of scandal are sexy angles, but Johnson’s on-course results will probably fall somewhere in that mitigated range.

Yes, the scouting reports on Johnson’s offseason progress are excellent. But again, these comments come courtesy of a PR filter, and how often do you hear healthy athletes say, “Yeah, I only feel so-so about this upcoming season”?

On the other side, a long break from golf is least likely to hinder a guy like Johnson, a total feel player who already has one extended professional vacation on record (that 11-week hiatus in 2012).

Sorry to be boring here, but I expect a quintessential Dustin Johnson season in 2015.

Is This a Professional Crossroads Year for Dustin Johnson?

It’s tempting to label this season as one where the back half of Johnson’s career is firmly at stake, with any failures sabotaging a strong ending. His lack of major championships looms large, but remember: HE’S ONLY 30 YEARS OLD.

Although we can’t always accurately predict the effects of aging on any one golfer, the average pro tends to have a near decade of prime years from age 30 on. According to the norm, we are really at the front end of Johnson’s prime.

You can see why I’m skeptical about this “crossroads” thing then. A bad season for a 30-year-old is just that: A bad season. It’s difficult to envision a downward spiral when Johnson’s physical talent is near the peak and likely not set to decline for a couple of presidential election cycles.

Short of Johnson suddenly gaining 10 years in age in the next month, crossroads is an inaccurate way to describe his professional status in 2015.

Will Johnson finally win a major championship this season?

Johnson near miss

I actually like his odds here. As I already mentioned, I don’t think Johnson will really be hindered at all by his extended absence. His chances at a major won’t be dinged then by a drop in performance.

And the set of courses at the final three majors of 2015 suits him extremely well.

For the U.S. Open, Chambers Bay is expected to be a track with wide landing areas on the drive, and at 7,585 yards, it is a long one too. It seems that big hitters and great approach players, both of which describe Johnson, are especially encouraged to excel there. And those same profiles mesh with players most attractive to St. Andrews for the British Open and Whistling Straits for the PGA (if you don’t trust me, the 21st century major champion winners at these venues are Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer, all of whom fit the longer hitter-approach player profile).

The caveat for some is that a major championship is the next step in Johnson’s evolution as a golfer, and he isn’t ready for that leap. But we’re misplacing the “next step” concept. Not to diminish the difficulty of winning a major, but all that entails is getting hot at a big event with a great field. The 30-year-old already did that twice in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and another time in winning a World Golf Championships last year. He’s actually done it at majors too, with the victory crown barely eluding him. Those crunch time major championship moments are likely to turn in his favor at least once at some point.

Johnson’s real next step is consistently putting together multiple-win, double digit top-10 seasons. As lovely as it is to put up his current averages year-after-year, he seems to be stuck on those numbers.

All in all then, I’m optimistic that Johnson finally bags that elusive major in 2015. Such a victory doesn’t imply that his season will be above his norm or that the American has finally transformed into the golfer we believe his talent merits.

If he wins one of the Big Four, he remains the same old Dustin. And the old Dustin should triumph at a major in 2015.

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Kevin's fascination with the game goes back as long as he can remember. He has written about the sport on the junior, college and professional levels and hopes to cover its proceedings in some capacity for as long as possible. His main area of expertise is the PGA Tour, which is his primary focus for GolfWRX. Kevin is currently a student at Northwestern University, but he will be out into the workforce soon enough. You can find his golf tidbits and other sports-related babble on Twitter @KevinCasey19. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: September 2014

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Batman

    Jan 7, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Kind of ironic to use “burning” in the headline.

    Just remember, in PGA Tour lingo… “Out with injury” = “serving suspension for positive drug test(s)”

  2. tom

    Jan 7, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    I know you have to fill pages so you have eyeballs returning to your website, but seriously? i read the first paragraph, hit Ctrl + End and filled out this comment field…

    who cares who DJ is banging or what he’s doing in his life. the only thing that matters to this community is how far he’s hitting it and is it still in play. oh yeah, and when is he confirmed to return. yawn…

  3. Jeff Smith

    Jan 7, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    This is why golf in this day and age sucks. …… and who cares!

  4. Denis

    Jan 6, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Why do we need transparency? He is an adult and can do whatever he chooses as long as it is legal and doesn’t hurt other people.

  5. chris franklin

    Jan 6, 2015 at 6:11 am

    The only burning question that I can see is why the PGA Tour didn’t have the guts to throw him out completely for flaunting their code of ethics and behaviour?
    Johnson appears to be a man with no moral scruples and is not fit to represent anyone or anything,if he can’t be honest about his situation how can he be honest about anything?
    His tour card should be revoked and a ban imposed.

  6. Pingback: Dustin Johnson Questions Answered! - The Golf Shop Online Blog - The Golf Shop Online Blog

  7. Barry S.

    Jan 6, 2015 at 12:48 am

    Looking forward to Dustin coming back strong. He’s very popular and sells lots of tickets for Tim Finchem.

  8. Matthew Carter

    Jan 5, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    Transparency evidently isn’t part of the PGA process.
    MLB/NBA/NHL/NFL …..Straight forward on suspentions including the “Root” cause of the suspension.

  9. farmer

    Jan 5, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Did DJ just like to party too much or does he have an addiction problem? That is the question. Quitting the party circuit that surrounds tour stops will be relatively easy, dealing with addiction is a whole different level of difficulty. For his sake, I hope it’s just that he liked the parties.

  10. Mccance79

    Jan 5, 2015 at 11:10 am

    I am a Big DJ fan… but why are golf journalist so afraid to say WHY he has taken this time away from golf? I am NOT a Tiger fan and everyone was first to say why he took his time off!! Gentlemen he had a substance abuse problem and had failed 3 drug test!! Taking a look at golf from the outside lets get tight to the root of the issue and ask the hard hitting questions so that we can control the media and not leave it to a low level outlet like tmz

    • Pat

      Jan 5, 2015 at 12:40 pm

      I suspect Tiger was suspended for his repeated painkiller and sedative use as well as steroids and hgh. The only reason why the USGA is so hesitant about putting the truth out there is because Tiger is their cash cow, and if they relay to the public that he has a drug problem, sponsors would pull out, their image would be tainted and less money will go into the pockets of the executives. There is no transparency in golf which is very sad.

    • Prut

      Jan 5, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      It’d be my guess he did not get sidelined for drug use, but for banging other players’ wives. He crossed the line there.

    • Jonny B

      Jan 5, 2015 at 3:55 pm

      This is the first I’ve heard of Tiger being suspended. Please elaborate…

  11. kevorkan

    Jan 5, 2015 at 10:33 am

    l erreure est humaine donnez lui la chance de prouver son talent en 2015

  12. Steve

    Jan 5, 2015 at 10:01 am

    I should there will lines waiting for his return

  13. Roy

    Jan 5, 2015 at 9:41 am

    They will accept him with open arms and wide open legs

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Equipment

Davis Love III was still using a persimmon driver in 1997?!

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The revolution of metal drivers was happening quickly in the early-to-mid 1990’s, but Davis Love III was set on sticking with his Cleveland Classic Oil Hardened RC85 persimmon driver. He wasn’t oblivious to the emerging technology, though. He knew exactly what he was doing, and why.

“The Cleveland has been in my bag since 1985,” Love III wrote in his 1997 book, “Every Shot I Take.” “It was given to me by a good friend, Bob Spence. I experiment with metal drivers often; I find – for me, and not necessarily for you – they go marginally longer than my wooden driver, but they don’t give me any shape. I find it more difficult to create shape to my drives off the metal face, which is important to me. …I also love the sound my ball makes as it comes off the persimmon insert of my driver.

“I’m no technophobe,” he added. “My fairway ‘woods’ have metal heads … but when it comes to my old wooden driver, I guess the only thing I can really say is that I enjoy golf more with it, and I think I play better with it…golf is somehow more pleasing to me when played with a driver made of wood.”

Although his book came out in 1997, Love III switched out his persimmon driver for a Titleist 975D titanium driver in the same year.

It was the end of an era.

During Love III’s 12-year-run with the persimmon driver, though, he piled on four wins in the year of 1992, including the Kmart Greater Greensboro Open — now known as the Wyndham Championship.

Love III, who’s captaining the 2022 Presidents Cup United States team next month at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C., is playing in the 2022 Wyndham Championship in nearby Greensboro. In celebration, we took a look back in the archives to see what clubs Love III used for his win in 1992 for an article on PGATOUR.com. We discovered he was using a Cleveland Classic persimmon driver, in addition to a nostalgic equipment setup.

In our latest Two Guys Talking Golf podcast episode, equipment aficionado and co-host Brian Knudson, and myself (GolfWRX tour reporter Andrew Tursky), discuss Love III’s late switch to a metal-made driver, and why he may have stuck with a wooden persimmon driver for so long.

Check out the full podcast below in the SoundCloud embed, or listen on Apple Music here. For more information on Love III’s 1992 setup versus his 2022 WITB, click here.

 

 

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Opinion & Analysis

Why the 2022 AIG Women’s Open is a momentous week for the women’s game

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The 47th Women’s British Open, currently sponsored by AIG, is unquestionably historic.

Not only is the purse a record $7.3 million, but this week’s venue has a darker, less inclusive past than it would like to be remembered for.

Despite holding 16 Open Championships, the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup and a Curtis Cup, in 2016, the membership controversially voted against permitting women to join the club.

Having then courted controversy and after receiving a ban from hosting The Open, they predictably reversed the decision, and three years later allowed their first ever female members.

It’s been a long time coming but, from now on, things are definitely on the up.

Tournament director Zoe Ridgway told Women & Golf that, “Along with our partners at AIG, we have a real ambition to grow the AIG Women’s Open. We are creating a world-class championship for the world’s best players and, as such, we need to provide them with the best golf courses in Great Britain and Ireland to compete on.”

She continued, “Muirfield is certainly one of these and it will be a historic moment when the women tee off on the famed layout for the first time. That is a moment which we hope becomes iconic for golf and encourages more women and girls into the sport.”

2009 winner, Catriona Matthew, hit the historic first tee shot yesterday, the two-time winning Solheim Cup captain symbolically teeing off alongside another home player, 22-year-old Louise Duncan.

From one stalwart and veteran of the tour to the fresh face of Scottish golf, Duncan won the 2021 Women’s Amateur Championship before becoming low amateur at the Women’s British Open at Carnoustie, 12 months ago.

Duncan turned pro recently, missing her first cut at the Women’s Scottish Open last week, but bouncing back in today’s first round, a 4-under 67 leaving her in third place, just two off the lead.

There is something particularly special about links golf, and certainly when it hosts a major, but this week seems to have additional sparkle about it.

Yes, there are the practicalities. For example, this year will mark the first time the players have their own all-in-one facility, available previously to the male competitors.

Ridgway explained, “It will have dining, a gym, physio rooms, locker rooms, showers, and everything that they need to prepare for a major championship.”

This week is momentous in so many ways. It will be tough, windy and cold – links courses are – and there will be a very deserving winner by the end of the 72 holes, but the event is summed up by Visit Scotland CEO Malcolm Roughead:

“It sends the signal that the women’s game is being taken seriously.”

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: My BIG guys golf trip WITB and building a custom TaylorMade Spider GT putter

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This weekend is my big guys golf trip. We have a great group of 16 guys who play a mini Ryder Cup style tournament for a trophy and major bragging rights. Trying to put together the two full sets I will bring with me. I love custom golf clubs and the My Spider GT program from TaylorMade is awesome! I built a custom Spider GT that matches my custom Stealth Plus+ driver!

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