Dustin Johnson: Masters champion and world number one's uncomplicated approach to game

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Dustin Johnson in Green Jacket with Masters trophy
Dustin Johnson's Masters victory was his second major title, after winning the 2016 US Open
The Masters
Date: 8-11 April Venue: Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Sounds and text updates on BBC Sport website.
Listen to the full interview with Dustin Johnson in 5 Live's golf show on Thursday, 1 April at 21:00 BST. It will preview the Masters and first women's major of the year, the ANA Inspiration. Listen to live coverage of the ANA Inspiration from 23:00 BST on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 April on 5 Live Sports Extra.

Only Tiger Woods and Greg Norman have spent more time as golf's world number one than Dustin Johnson, who defends his Masters title at Augusta next week.

Johnson won his first Green Jacket last November with a record-breaking display, becoming the first man to finish 20 under par in the tournament's history.

When he is on song, which a regular occurrence, there is no more tuneful figure in the modern game. DJ taps into a highly effective golfing melody that creates seemingly effortless efficiency.

Booming drives, accurate wedges, unerring putts; it is the sport's ultimate package. As Rory McIlroy commented after playing with him at the last Masters: "See ball, hit ball, see putt, go to the next. He makes it look so simple at times."

Johnson's ability to make the game appear easy is well known. He has spent only one week outside the world's top five since winning his first major, the US Open in June 2016.

But there were popular misconceptions about this bearded, athletic 36-year-old which were finally laid bare by his Augusta triumph last autumn.

Johnson's usual undemonstrative, unflappable demeanour suggested an insouciance that led observers to conclude he could find his best golf because, actually, he was not burdened by caring too much.

This, after all, was the player who told his team to cheer up when they jumped into their car after he blew the 2015 US Open by three-putting from 12 feet on the 72nd green at Chambers Bay.

Johnson was also the figure who smiled at his manager after hitting out of bounds at the 2011 Open, reminding him that his runner-up finish to Darren Clarke at Royal St George's was his best major finish to date.

But last November anyone who saw Johnson break down in tears during his interview after being presented with the Masters trophy knows this man cares about his golfing successes.

He really cares.

"I'm nervous every day on the first tee," Johnson told BBC Sport in an interview to be aired on BBC Radio 5 Live on Thursday from 21:00 BST. "I feel it because it means something to me.

"I want to do well, I want to perform. I think it was (Jack) Nicklaus who said, you know, the day he's not nervous on the first tee is the day he stops playing."

At the Masters Johnson struggled to swallow as he tried to force down almond butter and jelly sandwiches during his four-under-par 68 in the final round which left him five strokes clear of the field.

"You know, I feel it but I've been in this situation enough to know what my body does and how it reacts," he said. "In those situations I try and stay calm and collected so I can pull off the shot that I'm trying to hit."

Johnson possesses a healthy sense of perspective. A bad round might lead to a corrective visit to the range but there will be no histrionics.

"I'm not going to be angry or upset and when I've played really well I'm not jumping up and down in the locker room either," said the man who secured his most recent victory at the Saudi International last February.

"It's golf, you know. You're going to play good and you're going to play bad. It's managing the days that you don't have your best."

Johnson's reputation for being an uncomplicated soul seriously underestimates a mind that has perhaps worked out golf better than anyone since Woods burst onto the scene. Johnson has, undoubtedly, established how best to maximise his golfing gifts.

"It's what I've developed over time, figuring out what works for me and just continuing to try to make that better," he said.

"I know what I'm capable of and what shots I can hit and what shots I can't, so I just try to stick to what I'm good at and play my game."

While others, such as Bryson DeChambeau, take a scientific route to seek more speed which also influenced rivals including Rory McIlroy to tamper with strengths in their game, Johnson's approach is simpler and makes more sense.

We discussed the processes that have taken him to the top of the game and he explained: "I really just took a look at the stats and where I could improve my golf.

"It was from 150 yards and in. It was something that I could get substantially better at and that's what I work very hard on.

"I still do constantly. I spend probably 90% of my time with pitching wedge, sand wedge, 60 (degree wedge), chipping and putting.

"It's somewhere I feel I can still get better at so I continue to work very hard on that and I feel like it transfers into the rest of my game. If I'm hitting those shots the way that I want to I'll hit the rest of my clubs how I want to."

It also helps that mid-career he switched from a potentially ruinous draw off the tee. His controlled left to right fade removes lurking danger from one side of a course and frequently means fairways are found with distance and accuracy.

"Obviously I still work on the long game but I spend way more time on the short game," he added. "I mean putting is a third of your round.

"Even if I'm not driving it well, if I'm still getting it up and down by hitting my wedges close I can still put together a pretty good round."

It is an approach as simple as it is clever. It breeds smart golf, distilling this game of numbers into its key components.

And the figures do not lie. He has now spent 121 weeks of his career as world number one.

Woods (683 weeks) and Norman (331) are a long way ahead but Johnson's points average is nearly two better than his closest rival, Justin Thomas.

The size of that margin equates to the gap between Thomas and DeChambeau who is fifth in the standings.

On that basis, it does not take a genius to work out that DJ is unlikely to be shifted from the pinnacle anytime soon. He remains the man to beat at Augusta next week.

Around the BBC - SoundsAround the BBC footer - Sounds


Join the conversation

These comments are now closed.


Top Stories