Golf's new world No. 1, Dustin Johnson's career defined by consistency
Johnson now has 13 wins over the course of 10 seasons
If there is a critique to be made of the new No. 1 golfer in the world, it is that Dustin Johnson has been prone to erratic behavior both on and off the course. There was the 82 in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open, the out-of-bounds meltdown at Royal St. George’s in the 2011 Open Championship, and even the “jet ski accident” a few years ago.
And yet, maybe ironically, the trait that has come to define Johnson over the course of his 10-year career on the PGA Tour is consistency. A lunch pail and hard hat consistency that is unusual for a talent like Johnson. He broke through at Riviera Country Club on Sunday at the Genesis Open for his 13th PGA Tour win after finishing in the top five there an insane five times in his career.
“My game is in great shape,” Johnson said on Sunday after his win. “I feel like I’ve struggled a bit the last couple of months. I took a lot of time off in the offseason -- on purpose. I work hard during the year. I didn’t practice at all. It took me a couple of weeks to get back to it. Now I’m feeling confident.”
Johnson will play next in Mexico City in two weeks.
With his blowout win at the Genesis Open on Sunday, he joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to win in each of their first 10 seasons on the PGA Tour in the last six decades. He rose to No. 11 on the all-time money list, surpassing Zach Johnson with just over $41 million. He climbed to No. 1 in the world after camping out in the top 10 for nearly two years.
“I think I’m a good player,” Johnson said on Sunday after his win. “But everybody has their own opinion. I believe in myself. I think I’m a great player. Before, I wouldn’t have thought I was the best player in the world, but now I can say it.”
It can be argued, but few people would argue against you if you made the case that Johnson’s sixth gear is equal to or better than the handful of other golfers in the world who even possess that gear. His impossible swing is usurped only by his immutable swagger. Both are worth a handful of strokes every week. He now has 13 wins in just 206 tries on the PGA Tour.
Maybe this whole consistency thing is all a mirage, though. That’s certainly possible. Maybe Johnson should actually be winning at a much higher clip than he does. Or maybe his fiancee Paulina Gretzky and their soon-to-be two children have rooted him to this place in time. Maybe he is scraping his ceiling as a golfer and as an athlete.
I don’t know the answer. I just know that there are a lot of outrageous talents to walk the fairways of the PGA Tour who have never become half of what D.J. has in twice the amount of time.
“The guy I think, in a God-given way, fell out of the cradle ready for golf was Dustin Johnson,” Colin Montgomerie recently told Golf.com. His arms are three inches longer than they should be, which is great. But he’s so flexible. Flexibility is our key. Lack of flexibility is what stops you from playing. It stopped Faldo. It stopped Seve. It stopped Norman.”
His game travels, too. All over. He has won in China. He probably should have a couple of Opens by now. He’ll be a favorite at Augusta this year. You can add Riviera to his man-sized list of courses conquered: Oakmont, Doral, Pebble Beach (twice), Plainfield Country Club, Cog Hill and Crooked Stick. That is a pretty unbelievable list.
It often feels like Johnson is just getting started, too. Tiger Woods, forever the fulcrum of PGA Tour comparisons, won his last major championship at the same age Johnson is right now, 32.
Nobody knows how many more wins Johnson has in him, but don’t let the past affect the way you think about his potential. Johnson may have dipped deeply into various vices and paths oft traveled by uber-talents gone awry. But his focus is zeroed right now in on an unlimited future. His bad weeks are top 10s. His major collection will likely expand in the next five years.
You can build an all-time career by winning once a year for 20-25 years on the PGA Tour. Of all golfers, I would not have expected Johnson to walk that path. But that is exactly what he is doing.
In his first eight seasons, he won one time each except for 2010 when he won twice. Then last year he took three. He already has one two months in 2017. The pace is picking up. One a year could turn into two or four, and the coffers will grow exponentially. One monstrous course at a time.
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