Fergus Bisset met the laid-back Dustin Johnson at St Andrews and attempted to discover the man behind the cool persona he shows the puiblic
Passion for the game
While many things about Dustin Johnson are hard to fathom, what is clear is his love of playing golf. Whether he’s reminiscing about past contests like the 2007 Walker Cup, when he was on the winning side at Royal County Down together with Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel and Webb Simpson, or about the new driver he’s just put in his bag, it’s clear he has a true passion for this sport and it’s one that was ingrained in him as a kid.
“My dad was a club pro when I was a youngster and in the summer time I’d go to work with him every day and I’d play every day,” he said. “And that was how I got into it, it was my summer sport and I loved it.”
Dustin enjoyed a fine amateur career that peaked in 2007 when he won the Monroe Invitational and the Northeast Amateur. He also competed in the Walker Cup and Palmer Cup during a hugely impressive season.
He had almost instant success in the pro ranks and won during his rookie season on the PGA Tour in 2008. He has won a tournament every year since, except for 2014, and has picked up almost $30 million in prize money.
One of the key reasons for his success is his phenomenal power. At 6ft 4 inches and athletically built with long levers and quick muscles, Johnson is able to hit the ball prodigious distances. In the age of the ‘power game’ Johnson is one of its leading exponents. Since he joined the PGA Tour, DJ has never ranked outside the top four in average driving distance. I asked him how far he can carry the ball in still conditions.
“I think my best on TrackMan is something around the 337-yard mark,” he said with a hint of a smile. “Yeah, that was a good one.” But he is aware that length isn’t the only thing that matters.
“You know everybody talks about this and it’s true, hitting the ball a long way does give you an advantage,” he said. “But it’s not much good if you hit the ball a long way into trouble. So being a straight hitter is really the key thing. The strength of my game is that I can hit the ball really straight with the driver.”
Ask golf fans what they think of when Dustin’s name is mentioned and most will probably plump for his hugely powerful hitting. A close second would likely be his supremely relaxed approach to life.
At a pre-Open press event at the Rusacks Hotel in St Andrews, Dustin was interviewed together with Sergio Garcia. The American was asked when he first met the Spaniard. “I don’t know, maybe 2008?” he ventured. “Look, I can barely remember what I did last week.” Cue much laughter.
Related: Sergio Garcia swing sequence
This was what the press wanted to hear, and this was what DJ wanted to give them – he’s the daydreamer who doesn’t let anything worry him. He just doesn’t care, doesn’t really bother to think… Well, I don’t buy it.
It’s a great self-defence mechanism though – If DJ remains supremely chilled out at all times and doesn’t react to questions about his Major misses then the press will get bored; like bullies with an unresponsive victim.
But it’s there under the tranquil façade – Johnson wants to win a Major, perhaps more than any current top player. Given how many times he’s been burned in golf’s big four events, the release of tension when he finally does get one (and he will) is going to be huge.
When the monkey gets the heave-ho, we’ll see a different, less cagey Dustin Johnson and the floodgates could open. Phil Mickelson didn’t win his first Major until he was 33 and he now has five to his name. Dustin is just 31.
He may be a duck swimming across the millpond – he might appear calm on the surface and what’s going on out of sight might be more frenetic – but sooner or later he’ll reach the other side and walk away a Major Champion.