Inside the beautiful mind of Dustin Johnson
Q. What is your favourite Masters tradition?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: Favourite tradition. For me, I don't know if it's really tradition, but my favourite thing about the Masters is the sandwiches.
Q. Which one?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: All of them.
We’re going to be hearing a lot about Dustin Johnson’s love of the Augusta sandwiches in the next couple of weeks. There have already been mock-ups of the Champions Dinner menus with ‘Sandwiches’ as the main (and only) course with the underlying tone an affectionate, yet slightly mocking, little dig at the Masters champion.
The 36-year-old doesn’t say much. He also seems totally unaffected by bits of bad luck that would end others’ careers and so, very simply, we come to the conclusion that he’s not the brightest tool in the box.
Then we remind ourselves that he’s won 17 times in the past five years, he’s comfortably the best player in the world and, on April 8, he will defend his Masters crown.
Sungjae Im and Cameron Smith barely put a foot wrong last November, finishing the week at 15-under which generally would have been plenty good enough to land themselves a new green jacket, and, yet, Johnson did the pair of them by five shots.
Five months on he’s the clear favourite to do it all again. His nearest challengers, on paper at least, are Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau, both recent winners on tour, but then things thin out a little.
The five-time Masters champion Tiger Woods is beginning his convalescence while Jon Rahm might not even be part of the tournament, given the impending arrival of his new baby. Brooks Koepka has shown signs of his clinical best but he has just undergone knee surgery. You’d be a fool to write off Jordan Spieth in any Masters, and his form has been one of the highlights of 2021, but his world ranking of 54th tells us what a dark place he’s been to in the past few years.
Then we have Rory McIlroy who, momentarily, seems as far away from a career Grand Slam or even another tournament win as he has done for a while. That will all change, particularly with Pete Cowen now in his corner, but he’s available at 14-1 which tells its own story.
As things stand everyone would love to be DJ. His form at Augusta reads 6-4-DNP-10-2-1 and the DNP, where he slipped at his rental home, came at a period of particular dominance – his last three starts having all finished in victories.
We like to pick holes in Johnson because he doesn’t give us much – Butch Harmon says he does this so he doesn’t have to bother with too many extra-curricular interviews. We like to find fault as nothing seems to bother him – think of the back catalogue of major cock-ups which never seemed to get under his skin.
Then, with another blooper and rules humdinger on the cards, he came through at Oakmont in incredible style. For the next four years, we’d label him a one-major wonder.
Now he has two of them and, even better, he finally showed emotion, breaking down by the 18th green. On different levels Johnson had elevated himself to something very different. Going into that final round he was 0-4 in 54-hole major leads and, here, he led by four. Then he chunked a chip into a greenside bunker at the 2nd and the mask looked like slipping. He would play the last 13 holes in five under and set a new tournament record.
Johnson is made for golf. Even as amateurs we strive to think as little as possible, when you’re doing it four days a week for 30 weeks a year and being asked the same questions week in, week out then a quiet mind is the one thing that will work. Forget being able to hit it 370 yards like Bryson – “I mean, I can hit it far, but I can't hit it that far. I want to hit it straight though. So that's my goal is to hit it in the fairway, not to hit it far” – Johnson’s mantra is to just get it round though he will still average over 310 off the tee.
“Obviously right now I'm the best player in the world, I hit some of the worst shots you've ever seen. But I go find it and hit it again. Obviously not all of them are bad but I do hit bad shots. But it's managing those shots and not letting it bother you and going and hitting the next one good.”
His wedge play used to be a big problem, now it’s one of his major strengths. Where we still don’t get Johnson is his love for the game.
The day after the 72nd-hole three-putt at Chambers Bay in 2015, the one where he had a putt to win the the US Open, he played golf after flying to the Gretzky summer home in Idaho. And for the next three weeks he would play golf with Paulina’s father Wayne and his mates, and they didn’t speak of the three-putt once.
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