Settle back and listen to a story of a 32-year old golfer who could hit the ball a long way (and we mean really bomb it). He won his first tournament in his early twenties and was a consistent winner on the PGA Tour. This golfer even won a couple of big ones, but sadly never one of those really big ones – a major. He had plenty of Top 10s in those though and was always around the leaders.
This golfer was also a really laid back guy—perhaps the most easy-going guy in sports. No fist pumps and high fives on the course, those were for other guys. His personality was anti-Ryder Cup, and his signature silence made him an easy favorite with an even easier two-syllable nickname.
And then when he was 32, his golf game caught fire and for a while there was no one who could beat him. In that whirlwind came that long-awaited first major win where everyone said there is no telling how much this guy is going to win now.
You know who we’re talking about by now, right? Of course, it’s… Freddie Couples. Oh, you thought it was Dustin Johnson? Completely understandable since it’s hard to look at DJ in 2016 and not think about Boom Boom in 1992…
The Hottest of Hot Streaks
But before we turn this story into Dustin Johnson, let’s go back and finish out the tale of Fred Couples. His spell of good golf began at the end of 1991 but by 1992, it was nothing short of phenomenal. In the month before the Masters, Couples won twice and finished second twice. Then he won the Masters and he became the first American player to reach Number One in the world rankings since tracking started in 1986.
After 14 Top 10s in the majors there was no telling how many Couples was going to reel off. The answer turned out to be zero. There were no more wins of any kind in 1992 and only six more in his PGA career. Yes, there were back issues and off-the-course setbacks and Freddie Couples remained immensely popular, but in the final analysis he wasn’t a dominant Number One-type golfer. Couples was a very good golfer who had one heck of a hot streak once upon a time.
What’s going on with Dustin Johnson these Days?
So what does the future hold for Dustin Johnson now that he’s laid waste to the historic Oakmont course to win the United States Open, and overpowered the venerable Firestone South to win the Bridgestone Invitational World Golf Championship with weekend rounds of 66-66? He’s splintered the so-called Big Three and motored to World Number Two behind Jason Day. Are we going to look up in a few years and see Johnson with half-a-dozen majors or look back on 2016 as a time when the laconic long-baller from Myrtle Beach was really hot? Not sure, but here is how he conquered the field at Firestone:
There are clues in his golf game. Johnson is still insanely long – he routinely averages about 340 off the tee these days – but he’s changed his ball flight from a draw to a more controllable fade. All that distance means more chances with the scoring clubs, something Johnson has never really taken full advantage of in the past. At Firestone he ranked 4th in fairways hit for the tournament. Last year he was 113th on the PGA Tour in accuracy on shots from 50 to 125 yards – this year he’s ranked first. First – and he pulls the wedge out of the bag all the time. Going back to driving distance, DJ is behind only J.B. Holmes by a mere .3 of a yard. Here is the current driving distance in 2016 through 7/10/16:
So Johnson is putting in the work of a World Number One, but does he carry the personality of a World Number One? Day, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy have all been World Number One, and talk all the time about how being the best player in the world is their goal. It’s what really matters and drives them. DJ? You don’t hear that from him. His little boy Tatum comes up more in the conversation.
Like Fred Couples, Dustin Johnson leaves golf fans hungering for what would happen if the motivation (at least what he puts on display on the course) ever matched the talent. Going forward, will DJ spend a few years as the World Number One or just be a very good player who turns unstoppable every now and then when the putts are dropping? Whichever way it goes, no one will be much surprised if either case comes to pass.