Tag Archives: Dustin Johnson

DJ Gets One Back

The USGA does a lot of good things for golf, but running the US Open isn’t necessarily one of them.


By now, most everyone with a mild interest in this year’s championship is aware of the rules fiasco involving eventual champion Dustin Johnson. His ball moved a millimeter backwards between the time he completed his practice swings and when he was about to place his putter behind the ball. He immediately stopped, called over a rules official, explained what had happened, and apparently was given a clean bill of health to continue play with no penalty.
About an hour or so later, the FOX announcing team reported that USGA rules officials were “reviewing” the Johnson Incident, and had notified DJ to essentially report to the principal’s office once his round was completed.


This sent Joe Buck and company, most of the golfing community not associated with the USGA, and yours truly into a state of apoplexy. Johnson, who years ago at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, had been the unfortunate victim of a rather harsh ruling, followed every correct protocol and was told to proceed without penalty. Now, in addition to having to negotiate one of the toughest tests of golf known to mankind, there was the distinct (and as it turned out, very real) possibility of being penalized in an ex post facto fashion.


Twitter lit up with posts from Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Ricky Fowler, all vilifying the USGA. Golf’s greatest curmudgeon, Dan Jenkins, had a field day, finally commenting, “If I were Dustin, I’d ask for cash instead of a check.”


Fortunately for all of us, this all became moot thanks to DJ’s steady play down the stretch, along with third round leader Shane Lowrey doing his best imitation of a cheap suit. Still, the fact that this became a major talking point of the tournament is a black eye for the USGA.


Johnson had knocked on the door of major championships before, most recently at the US Open at Chambers Bay last year when, after hitting two of the most incredible shots on a closing hole in a major that I’ve ever witnessed (although yesterday’s finish came close), he inexplicably three putted from 12 feet, handing the trophy to a stunned Jordan Spieth.
He has also had something of a past during his career on Tour, have been sent twice on “leaves of absence” (PGA Tour weasel-speak for “suspended”), allegedly to deal with substance abuse issues. Johnson is a very guarded individual and has chosen not to speak of any problems he’s had.


At the same time, DJ is one of the Tour’s popular stars. A pure athlete, he prowls the course with an appealing insouciance. His partner and mother of his child, Paulina Gretzky, is a head-turning beauty (I witnessed this first hand at the Byron Nelson Classic a few years ago, when a golf cart carrying Ms Gretzky out to the course whizzed by the 10th tee where one Jordan Spieth was getting ready to hit. It was probably the only time all weekend that Spieth did not command the attention of the gallery). He routinely pounds accurate drives of over 300 yards, a result of a swing that, at first glance, has the apparent ease of a Freddie Couples; when seen in slow motion, the contortion of his torso is wince-inducing, an evidence of the source of his tremendous power. When it comes to golf, chicks and guys dig the long ball.


If there’s been a knock on Johnson’s game, it’s been around his short game. His putting can be erratic, and statistically he’s one of the worst bunker players on tour, two factors that frankly had me convinced that he would not be able to stand up to the diabolical greens and cavernous hazards that are the main defenses of Oakmont.


But, as several folks pointed out to me prior to the start of the Open, bombers tend to do well at Oakmont (Nicklaus, Els, and Cabrera certainly fit that bill), and DJ is nothing if not a bomber. He drove the ball well for the majority of the tournament and handled the labyrinth of greens complexes as well as anyone could have.


And most importantly, Dustin Johnson displayed the discipline and mental toughness required to win the US Open. And given the unexpected and totally farcical injustice perpetrated on him by the USGA’s ruling, this has to be particularly gratifying for him.


And – considering that seven of the eight previous US Open champions crowned at Oakmont are multiple major champions, it won’t be surprising to see DJ bag another one in the not too distant future. I’d love to see it. And I hope the USGA, or the R&A, or the PGA, or the Masters Rules committee sees fit to leave him the hell alone.

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Wisconsin Love Call

Because I’m a golf nerd, I am prone to weird investments of time, particularly when it comes to watching replays of past tournaments. And with this year’s PGA Championship on tap shortly, I naturally had to queue up a recording of the 2010 event, which was held at Whistling Straits, Pete Dye’s tribute to (or send-up of, depending on one’s mood) links golf on the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan and the site for this year’s event.

Much like Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s effort at Chambers Bay, Dye moved over a million tons of earth to create Whistling Straits, a fact easily verifiable by an aerial view of the coast line that surrounds the course. To the immediate north and south, the land is as flat as the cardiograph of the deceased, while the Straits stands out almost Everest-like (“almost” being the operative word here, as I believe the highest elevations on the course to be about 90 feet).

In any event, when the wind blows (as it did on the final round in 2010), Whistling Straits is a bear of a course – in the replay I watched, golfers, caddies, and marshals gave more hand signals to indicate errant drives than a cop directing traffic in a major urban intersection. Many of the holes feature precarious drop offs by the lake’s shore line, and of course, there are the 1000 or so sand areas that for the general public play as “waste areas” (meaning that a player can ground his club at address as they would for most shots); however, during the tournament these areas are treated as normal bunkers, which are considered hazards and do not allow grounding of the club.

This latter piece of news somehow eluded Dustin Johnson back then. Having put on a rally by making birdie on 16 and 17, Johnson leading by one shot going into the final hole of the tournament. He blew his drive well to the right of the fairway, but found his ball sitting in a flat, sandy area. Spectators were standing nearby in the same area (the surrounding grassy area had been trampled by them over the 4 days of the event), and Johnson incorrectly (but maybe understandably) assumed that he could in fact treat the shot as not being in a hazard, and grounded his club at address. He missed the green to the left, pulled off a nifty pitch shot from some rather nasty fescue, but missed a 7-foot putt for par which seemingly dropped him into a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

Not so fast, CBS’s Jim Nantz informed us. The tournament committee deemed that Johnson was in fact in a hazard off of his drive and tagged him with a two-shot penalty, knocking him out of the playoff and adding another chapter to “DJ’s Guide to Blowing Majors,” a book that is becoming distressingly longer. Kaymer eventually won the playoff, denying Watson his first major.

This year’s majors have been thrilling events, what with Jordan Spieth’s spirited run at the Grand Slam and Zach Johnson’s underappreciated win at St Andrews. As something of a links course enthusiast, I’d love to believe that the venues at which both Open championships were held (Augusta, of course, remains a constant) contributed to the excitement, and hope that Whistling Straits does the same.

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I have a certain fondness for Wisconsin, being an alumnus of Marquette University in Milwaukee, a school that traditionally produces good (and, in my time, great) basketball teams, excellent journalists (including good friend and one-time roommate Charles Pierce), and in one case, a virtuoso finger picking guitarist, Pat Donohue.  We were not particularly known for our prowess in golf, but thanks to some international recruiting, the Warrior (yes, I know, the school’s administration succumbed to what I felt was misguided pressure and changed the nickname to “Golden Eagles,” but it will always be Warriors for me) golfers have begun to make some noise on the national stage, having made it to the NCAA Regionals the past couple of years.

Like its neighboring states Minnesota and Michigan, Wisconsin’s golf season is rather brief, but its residents’ enthusiasm for the game is strong; moreover, the state’s rolling terrain and glacial lakes is a perfect canvas for course design. While the Kohler/Sheboygan area (home of Herb Kohler’s American Resort, of which Whistling Straits is only one of four championship caliber tracks) garners a lot of attention, there are first rate venues all over the state, including Erin Hills, an inland “prairie-links” replete with waves of golden fescue that invite comparisons to Shinnecock Hills. Erin Hills in fact will host the 2017 US Open. I’ve played it a couple of times, and if you think Chambers Bay raised some eyebrows, wait until the golf world gets a load of this place. It’s about a 9 mile walk with a spectacular set of par-5 holes and green complexes that would make Donald Ross blush. I can already hear the howling.

The 3rd hole at Erin Hills.

The 3rd hole at Erin Hills.

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About 10 years ago, a bunch of my college buddies and spouses/significant others started to get together for what’s become an annual ritual. Most years this has taken place in Milwaukee, although last year we wound up at Forest Creek in Pinehurst, thanks to one of our friends having built a home there. This year, we are headed to Eagle River, WI, a charming town way “up nort” near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Eagle River is surrounded by the Wisconsin River and a seemingly endless chain of lakes, and features a charming course that is carved through the forest. The Golf Nerd Goddess and I look forward to a few days of cool weather, given the current blast furnace conditions that we’re experiencing in Texas.

New Glarus Spotted Cow beer has become the pride of Wisconsin, and I presume one or two of those will be consumed over the course of the weekend, along with a few brats, some cheese, and maybe some walleye as we reminisce over the near and distant past.  Chances are that we will tune in to watch the goings-on at Firestone, the last stop prior to the PGA Championship, and mull over the chances of Spieth, the two Johnsons, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, and others at Whistling Straits.

And hope that there’s no confusion over what constitutes a bunker this time around.

Sound and Fury

A favorite motion picture quote comes from Billy Murray, who in the film “Tootsie” plays Dustin Hoffman’s friend and roommate. When Hoffman’s character reveals his scheme in pursuing his transgender acting opportunity, Murray furrows his brow and remarks, “Ok, we’re getting into a weird area here.”

Such is the state of the PGA Tour these days. Dustin Johnson takes a “leave of absence” from the tour for personal and physical reasons.  Various media outlets report that Johnson has been suspended from the tour for cocaine use. The Tour denies that he has been suspended. Of course, the Tour, ever image-conscious, never announces any fines or suspensions for alleged misbehavior – although John Daly, bless his heart, was having none of that when he took a break back in 2008. “Oh, no, I was definitely suspended,” said Long John, who felt that he owned it to his fans and the public to be honest about his issues.

Other juicy tidbits have emerged regarding Johnson’s suspension, including 1) speculation that his previous absence from the Tour (officially attributed to injury) was in fact drug-related, and 2) a rumor that he was involved with another Tour player’s wife (say what you will about Tiger Woods, but at least he confined himself to porn stars and Denny’s waitresses).

I wish the Tour would be more transparent in these cases so that we are not left to conjecture (and whatever issues Johnson is facing, I would hope he can learn to deal with him), but there has always been a curious relationship among the Tour, its players, and the golf press, all buttressed, naturally, by corporate sponsors that drive tournament purses. Professional golf sells itself as a clean sport, where never is heard a discouraging word. On the flip side, golf “journalists” have largely played along, trading “access” for relatively tame questions of the players. Stepping outside these bounds can have consequences to those covering the game. When noted writer Charles Pierce dared to suggest in GQ back in 1997 that Woods, while regarded potentially the most talented player ever, was a normal 21 year old and not the second coming of Gandhi (as Woods’s father suggested in a Sports Illustrated article), he was accused of “ambush journalism” and was largely blamed for Woods’s guarded relationship with the press going forward.

Running parallel to this is the notion of Woods being chosen for the US Ryder Cup team (a team, by the way, that is seriously impacted by Johnson’s absence).  I’m still amazed that captain Tom Watson has not put this to rest. It’s apparent to everyone (save for 90% of golf commentators and ESPN) that Woods is nowhere near top form and that his back is still an issue. Yet the golf world collectively holds its breath – on Wednesday, the Golf Channel waited for him to show up at Valhalla, and 1) provided commentary on his health based on him opening the tailgate of his SUV and stretching on the bumper, and 2) analyzing his shots on the practice range.

Words is that Woods is “desperate” to be chosen for the Ryder Cup – although “desperate” might be the word that would be best applied to the various media outlets who will cover the event and that seem to go into withdrawal when there he is not in the field. But has anyone even bothered to look at Woods’s Ryder Cup record? First off, it’s below .500. Secondly, there is always major consternation as to who will partner with him, although the question should probably be, “Who the hell WANTS to partner with him,” given his record. Finally – since 1999, the US has won exactly one (1) Cup, in 2008. Guess who wasn’t on the team that year?

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy (who Jack Nicklaus has officially hexed by stating that he should win ‘”15 to 20 majors”) waits in the wings with a chance to win his third tournament in a row (two of them being majors), with a bevy of young challengers waiting in the wings.  That should be the major story going into the PGA Championship this week. I don’t need to watch Tiger Woods practice, and if he chooses to play (and if he were to make the cut), I certainly don’t need to watch him hit another 290-plus shots.  If he truly wants to benefit golf (and himself), he needs to shut it down until he is ready to play again, and stop kidding himself and us.