The 18: Dustin Johnson is pretty good at golf
The 18 is a look at eighteen stories from the previous week or so in the world of golf, and they will usually be on stories that I didn’t dedicate a full post towards. Expect a combination of thoughts, GIFs, images and anything else that caught my eye from the past seven days. Some will be longer thoughts, and others will be no more than a line or two.
The 18 will (hopefully) run every Tuesday. You can catch up on previous versions of The 18 right here.
1. Pretty good week for the world number one, right?
|2017 WGC-Match Play||Austin Country Club||Dustin Johnson def. Jon Rahm||1 up|
|2017 WGC-Match Play||Austin Country Club||Dustin Johnson def. Hideto Tanihara||1 up|
|2017 WGC-Match Play||Austin Country Club||Dustin Johnson def. Alex Noren||3 and 2|
|2017 WGC-Match Play||Austin Country Club||Dustin Johnson def. Zach Johnson||5 and 4|
|2017 WGC-Match Play||Austin Country Club||Dustin Johnson def. Jimmy Walker||5 and 3|
|2017 WGC-Match Play||Austin Country Club||Dustin Johnson def. Martin Kaymer||3 and 2|
|2017 WGC-Match Play||Austin Country Club||Dustin Johnson def. Webb Simpson||5 and 3|
Dustin Johnson ran through four major winners to start this tournament, and he never gave any of them a chance. He choked all of them out right from the first tee, and never allowed them to get back in the match. Take a look at the scores through nine holes in each of these matches. Again, these are all major champions:
- vs. Simpson: 5 up
- vs. Kaymer: 3 up
- vs. Walker: 6 up
- vs. Johnson: 4 up
He faced some stiffer competition with Alex Noren in the quarterfinals, as they were actually all square through twelve, but he eventually ran away from him, too. Hideto Tanihara proved much more difficult in the semifinals, and Jon Rahm made it super close at the end, but in all seven matches that Johnson played at Austin Country Club, he had at least a 3 up lead in every, single one. Every facet of the game was working last week, and as strange as it is to say for a match play event, it never felt like he was going to lose this tournament. He’s on top of the world right now, and if he keeps playing like this, no one is going to beat him.
2. Watching DJ play golf over the last month or so has been an absolute treat, and not just because of the results. When you win three tournaments in a row, you’re obviously playing incredible golf, but the way that DJ has gone about it is what has impressed me the most. The ball striking has always been there, and the fact that he’s second on the PGA Tour in SG: T2G, and first in SG: Total this year really shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it’s the other categories that have allowed him to excel. The chart below shows DJ’s ranks in Strokes Gained: Around the Green and Strokes Gained: Putting since 2008.
What you see from the graph is that while DJ has had high points in both categories over the years, nothing compares to the kind of success that he has had over the past two years, with a massive jump coming in his around the green numbers from just two years ago to now. Think about the fact that coming into 2017, Johnson already had twelve PGA Tour wins at age 32. Now think about the fact that he has literally never putted the ball better, or been more proficient around the greens than he is right now. Even if you argue that we’re looking at a small sample size and that he’s due for some regression, he’s still likely going to end up with his best season in these areas of his entire career.
When you combine these vast improvements in these two areas with the ball striking that has always existed, it’s pretty easy to see why he’s the best player in the world right now.
3. When Alexander Ovechkin was drafted by the Washington Capitals first overall in 2004, everyone knew he was a good player and everyone also knew that once the ridiculous NHL lockout ended, that even as a 20-year old, he wouldn’t look out of place. Then he went out and scored 52 goals and 106 points, good for third in the entire league in both categories. Forget about not looking out of place: Ovechkin was so much better than that. He was (and still is) a force, and without question, one of the best players in the world.
This is exactly what it feels like to watch Jon Rahm. We all knew that Rahm was good, but aside from Phil Mickelson, I’m not sure anyone knew that he was this good already. If he had pulled off the win against DJ, he would have been the third fastest player to enter the top 10 in the world after turning pro, behind only Tiger and Sergio. He didn’t quite get there, but the resume is still insane to look at.
He’s an elite ball striker, who was keeping up with DJ from the tee all week and again, he’s only 22. It’s very easy to get carried away with young players, and I’m usually someone who tries to exercise caution when it comes to players with very little pro experience, but I just can’t do it with Rahm. Not only is he already one of the best players in the world, but he’s also one of the most fun to watch and 18 months out, I’m already excited to watch him in the Ryder Cup.
4. I can only imagine that NBC was super relieved to see DJ and Rahm get through the semifinals on Sunday morning instead of Hideto Tanihara and Bill Haas, but in truth, that consolation match may have actually been more entertaining than the final. Haas obviously played solid all week, but I want to focus on Tanihara for a second. I’ve always said that even though we can quibble with the OWGR, one of the cool things about the WGC events is that you get to see guys like Tanihara who you otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to watch, and for many people, it’s a good reminder that quality golf does in fact exist outside of the PGA Tour.
Funky swing, Honma gear and not afraid to smoke on the course in front of the cameras? Sign me up.
I’m here for the Hideto Tanihara experience, and I hope we get to see more of him going forward. The good news? Tanihara’s play jumped him to 12th in the Presidents Cup rankings for the International side.
5. Some quick thoughts on a few players from the week:
- Phil Mickelson: Didn’t trail at any point in his first four matches, but it looked like he ran out of gas against Haas on Saturday morning. Still though, if you’re a Mickelson fan, you have to be excited about what you’re seeing right now, even though it’s pretty obvious that he really has no idea where the ball is going from the tee.
- Rory McIlroy: Didn’t lead at any point in his two matches, but unlike Phil, his opponents actually put up a much better fight. As I talked about last week, the upset isn’t really a notion that should exist in match play, so I wouldn’t read too much into this performance. He looks good, and if I’m picking anyone right now for the Masters, it’s him.
- Soren Kjeldsen: Got run over by the Battering Rahm in the quarters, but outside of that, he looked great and I loved watching him pick apart the course in his match against Rory. There were holes where Kjeldsen was 100 yards behind Rory, but that didn’t matter, as he came away with the win anyway. As much as I love watching guys like Rory, Rahm and DJ smash their way around the course, there is a high level of entertainment that can be taken from watching a guy dissect a course the way Kjeldsen has to do to be successful.
6. My three favourite shots from the week:
- With the wind whipping around on Thursday, Marc Leishman took driver out from the middle of the fairway on 16 and crushed one from 258 yards out.
- On Wednesday, Sergio also hit driver off the deck, but it didn’t go quite as well. I have no idea how he actually managed to save it and hit the ball as far as he did.
- Phil banking one into the hill and getting it to stop at gimme range is really, really good.
7. What wasn’t one of my favourite shots of the week was this putt from William McGirt, captured by legendary cricketer Kevin Pietersen, who provided some helpful commentary to go along with it.
The amount of time McGirt took, miss or make, was ridiculous but just in case you were curious, Pietersen plays off of a 7 handicap in Europe, so he isn’t some hack golfer making fun of the pros. And 16% of players on the PGA Tour say that slow play isn’t an issue? (More on that in a second)
8. There was a lot of talk on Twitter this week about how the tournament format doesn’t really make the most sense because of two reasons:
- If a player withdraws, as was the case this year with Jason Day, Gary Woodland and Francesco Molinari, you have players who don’t end up playing all of the matches they expected coming into the week.
- Several matches on Friday didn’t mean anything because the players had already been eliminated.
Those are two very valid points, but I would also argue that going back to the old “one and done” system doesn’t make a ton of sense either. You’re never going to be able to guarantee that the best (or most well known) players get through to the weekend, which is exactly what the TV networks want, but it’s also kinda shitty to have the players come out just for one day and then have to go home if they lose. So, what’s the best solution? I like what Andy Johnson wrote over at the Fried Egg, suggesting that a combination stroke play/match play event could be the way to go, even though I doubt that we’ll see it come to that. The current format is probably here to stay, at least for the next little while, and it’s hard to argue with the results of the three years where the format has been used, as we’ve had three solid final matches.
- 2015: Rory McIlroy vs. Gary Woodland
- 2016: Jason Day vs. Louis Oosthuizen
- 2017: Dustin Johnson vs. Jon Rahm
However, all it’s going to take is for the networks to have to broadcast one final match that doesn’t include marquee names and there will be calls for change.
9. One thing that no one should be wanting to change is the course. Austin Country Club is an outstanding venue, and in the two years that it has hosted this event, it has quickly climbed my list of favourite courses on the PGA Tour. The risk and reward nature of the course makes it a perfect fit for match play, and with how firm and fast it played towards the end of the week, it gave us a different feel than what we normally see on a weekly basis. So many of the courses that we see are essentially just target practice for these guys, so much like we saw in Mexico a few weeks ago, it’s refreshing to see this kind of curveball thrown into the mix.
The Fried Egg had a great look at this as well on Sunday.
10. Just a quick note on Jason Day’s WD: the press conference was really tough to watch, and it’s great to hear that his mother’s surgery went well.
However, Day is considering withdrawing from the Masters next week while he awaits the prognosis.
11. Last thing on this event: it was great to be able to wake up in the morning on the weekend, turn on the TV and watch the coverage on Golf Channel. We don’t get to see that too often with the PGA Tour, so it was a nice change.
12. Big win in Puerto Rico for the district attorney, D.A. Points, in the opposite field event this week and has regained his tour card for the next two years. He held off Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Lunde and Retief Goosen who finished two shots back, while Peter Uihlein, Sam Saunders and Whee Kim were three back.
Aside from Points, DeChambeau is the big headline here, as he has seemingly found something in the past few weeks. To me, he’s the most interesting name to watch coming up this week in Houston.
Full highlights from Sunday in Puerto Rico are below.
13. SI/GOLF.com did their annual anonymous player poll recently, and while it felt like last year’s version was a little more juicy, there were some interesting responses.
- The 4% of players who think that Hideki Matsuyama is the best putter on the PGA Tour clearly misread the question, right?
- Charles Howell III being listed as the best ballstriker on the PGA Tour isn’t something that the stats back up (Howell’s best SG:T2G rank in his career is 22nd), but the players obviously see things that we don’t necessarily see. For my money, the answer is Henrik Stenson.
- 80% of players think the Olympics should be turned from a stroke play event to a team event, which is great because it absolutely should be a team event. Shane Ryan looked at this for Golf Digest a few years ago, and even though the event ended up being great in 2016, I have no doubt that this is the better format.
- LOL at the 16% of players who think slow play isn’t a problem on the PGA Tour. Although, the shot clock idea that was suggested really isn’t needed. My dream scenario? Enforce the rules that are current set in the Rules of Golf, give out penalties for anyone who doesn’t pick up the pace, and publish a list of average round times on PGATour.com
- How did Firestone not win the worst course on the PGA Tour?
14. I was taking a look at the OWGR yesterday, and even though we talk all the time about how great of a place golf is in right now in the post-Tiger era, I was struck at the amount of diversity in the top-50 players in the world. You have a bunch of different nationalities, and a great mix of bombers and short game players. Plus, you have young guys at the top to go along with seasoned veterans who aren’t going away, and a ton of guys who have vibrant personalities.
There’s so, so much to love about this list.
15. Your must read of the week comes from Pat Perez in the Players Tribune, who takes aim at the media for portraying him in a negative light for seemingly his entire career. Perez is one of my favourite guys to listen to because as he says, he is a straight shooter and if you didn’t know the details of his life and career, this is a great insight into his story.
16. Shout out to Alan Shipnuck and GOLF.com for a really cool feature, “Knockdown Presents”, where anyone can submit golf stories and actually get paid for them! I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes out of this, and would encourage anyone reading this to send something in to have their story told. Dylan Dethier’s first piece for the series was excellent.
17. Golf World’s Jaime Diaz joined Soly on the No Laying Up podcast last week, and it was a great listen. Diaz has some good insights into Arnold Palmer, and I thought his comments on Tiger were super interesting and even had me thinking a little more optimistic about Big Cat if he can ever get back on the course. Tron summed it up best.
18. Your random GIFs of the week feature the swings of Gene Sarazen and Ty Cobb:
And a bonus image! Look at the shoes that Payne Stewart wore in the 1986 U.S. Open:
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