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Johnson Flips the Script – GGP’s Player of the Year

Dustin Johnson, Global Golf Post Male Player of the Year

By Ron Green Jr – Global Golf Post

For years, the old axiom that it was not a question of “if” but rather a question of “when” didn’t quite fit Dustin Johnson and major championships.

So many things had happened.

Dustin Johnson gets a look at the new M1 driver from TaylorMade (Photo Twitter).
Dustin Johnson gets a look at the new M1 driver from TaylorMade (Photo Twitter).

The final-round meltdown at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. The bunker bungle at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. A late approach shot out of bounds at the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s.

And, of course, the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.

In Johnson’s case, it had begun to feel like a question of “if” more than a question of “when.”

Something always seemed to get in his way.

When it happened again, this time in the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Johnson did what he does best. He played on, trying to ignore the ruling that hung in the summer air like a guillotine, not dwelling on whether he would be penalized for his ball moving on the fifth green and whether another fluky moment would cost him another major championship.

Johnson didn’t just win the U.S. Open at Oakmont, he owned Sunday afternoon. He got far enough ahead that it didn’t matter that the USGA chose to penalize him for what happened on the fifth green, a decision that threatened to muffle the thunder of Johnson’s victory.

With fans chanting “D.J., D.J.” as the final holes unfolded, Johnson time-stamped his victory with a spectacular 6-iron into the 18th green, setting up a short, final birdie that felt like the climax of a Fourth of July fireworks show.

Dustin Johnson (Photo Twitter)
Dustin Johnson in the 2016 Ryder Cup (Photo Twitter)

It was the moment of moments in Johnson’s biggest year as a professional and it’s why he is Global Golf Post’s male Player of the Year.

He won three times, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the BMW Championship in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He led the PGA Tour with 15 top-10 finishes, missed just one cut in 22 starts and came within a whisker of winning the FedEx Cup as well.

“I felt like I played really well and really solid throughout the first half of the year, had a lot of chances to win some tournaments, just couldn’t quite get it done. It felt like every single week I was up there and had a chance,” Johnson said.

“I knew what I was doing was working. I just needed to keep working at it. I knew that it was going to come along and obviously it did, getting my first major at the U.S. Open.”

At age 32, Johnson broke the seal on his potential. In the previous eight years, Johnson had won nine Tour events, giving him the longest active streak of seasons with a victory. It was an underappreciated achievement but it was overshadowed by what Johnson hadn’t done.

“Think about how long he’s won one tournament a year. He’s the one guy that’s done it. It’s hard to do. If you play the Tour for 20 years and win one a year, you’re going to win 20 times and you’re in the Hall of Fame,” Jim Furyk said.

Dustin Johnson (Photo adidas Golf)
Dustin Johnson (Photo adidas Golf)

With the help of teacher Butch Harmon, Johnson went to work on his weaknesses. Always blessed with extraordinary power built into an athletic swing that has its own minor quirks, Johnson focused on his wedge play and putting. What good was driving it as far as Johnson does if he couldn’t get it closer to the hole with a wedge in his hand?

It’s golf’s version of detail work, requiring repetition, patience and the proper technique. It also requires commitment, a willingness to put in the hours. For Johnson, who has always been talented enough to get by on his physical ability, sharpening his short game changed everything.

By his own estimation, Johnson’s work ethic rated a five on a 1-to-10 scale before this year. He bumped his own grade to 7 in 2016, suggesting there is still room for improvement.

In 2016, Johnson ranked fourth on Tour in proximity to the hole from 50 to 125 yards, a jump of 49 spots from the previous year.

Throw in the fact he ranked seventh in overall proximity to the hole and second in strokes gained off the tee, the pieces of the puzzle finally came together.

It would have been enough for Johnson to win the U.S. Open one year after three-putting the 72nd green to lose by a stroke to Jordan Spieth at Chambers Bay. It was something else to do it the way he did – handling a tumultuous Sunday when controversy and uncertainty swirled around him.

Harmon wrote, “It just shows you how strong mentally Dustin actually is. He just has the ability to not let those things bother him.”

As Johnson reflected on 2016 and looked toward the new year, he admitted his expectations have increased. He feels good about every aspect of his game and with his personal life in a good place, it’s possible that seasons like the one he had in 2016 could be Johnson’s new normal.

“You win one, it gets easier with the next, however, it didn’t for me,” Furyk said. “He could run off a bunch in the next four, five or six years and cement a legacy.”

Republished with permission by Global Golf Post