For all his power and athleticism, Dustin Johnson doesn’t get enough credit for his remarkable ability to quickly forget the past. That goes for the good times, too.
The day after he lost a chance to win the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits by grounding his club in sand without realizing it was a bunker, Johnson was on a boat in the Atlantic throwing down a few beers with his buddies. “Just kickin’,” he said that day on the phone.
The morning after Johnson three-putted from 12 feet on the final hole at Chambers Bay to lose the 2015 U.S. Open, he sped off in a golf cart to catch up with Wayne Gretzky and his group at Gozzer Ranch in Idaho. They let him sleep in. Johnson wanted to play.
“I know this much,” Gretzky said. “If I ever lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, I wouldn’t want to skate with a bunch of amateurs the next day.”
How does that change after winning the U.S. Open for that elusive first major?
And then adding a World Golf Championships title, a FedEx Cup playoff event and winning the money title, the Vardon Trophy and PGA Tour player of the year? Wouldn’t that be enough to soak up the greatest season of your career?
Not if you’re Johnson, who travels through life without a rearview mirror.
“I think I’m pretty good at putting anything behind me,” Johnson said Wednesday on the eve of a new year on the PGA Tour. “It’s already happened. You can’t change it. Obviously, good stuff gives you a lot of confidence, but I mean, none of that matters at this tournament. Who (cares) what I did last year?”
He at least knows what worked.
Johnson started in February to pour extra time into his wedges, and he went on a run last summer that showed – finally – why he is regarded as the biggest talent in golf. Over the last six months, he won three times and finished in the top 10 at all but three of his final 13 events.
He arrived on Maui a week earlier to soak up some beach time and get ready for his 10th year on the PGA Tour. Johnson already has 12 victories on the tour, at least one every year except for 2014.
Johnson is No. 3 in the world, though close enough to Jason Day that he could overtake him by the end of January with a victory or two. That might be a goal, though he’s not consumed enough by the world ranking that he checks it weekly, as the two guys (Day and Rory McIlroy) ahead of him do. Johnson figures it’s about winning, and if keeps doing that, it won’t be long before he has no one left to chase.
There’s no need to do the math in the world ranking, either. Johnson is not big on details.
“I’m just trying to go out and do the same things I did last year,” he said. “I know what recipe works for me to have success.”
He makes it sound simple. His driving is an alarming combination of length and accuracy, the latter helped greatly by introducing a fade. He went from one of the worst to one of the best with his wedges, often referred to as the scoring clubs. He wants to hole more putts. Everyone does.
Not regarded as a deep thinker on the golf course, that’s also one of his greatest assets. A short memory, or even no memory, can be helpful in golf. Johnson showed that at Oakmont last year at the U.S. Open when the USGA said it would wait until after the final round to decide whether he should be penalized one shot for his ball moving on the fifth green. He played the final 11 holes not knowing his score, kept his head down, hit one big shot after another and won by four.
It turned out to be a three-shot victory after he got the penalty, and that’s as close as Johnson gets to being irritated.
“I was a little bit angry,” he said with a smile. “You can ask me a thousand times, I still don’t think I deserved a penalty. I was in there arguing and finally said, ‘Guys, I don’t care anymore. I want the trophy, let’s go.’ It didn’t matter.”
He stayed at Oakmont so late that he finally got home about 3:30 a.m. to Florida, giving him a few hours on the flight home to reflect. That’s about it. That’s all he ever needs.
Johnson has a reasonable record at Kapalua. Top 10s are not a good measure because the field rarely has more than about 30 players. He won in 2013 in a 54-hole sprint because of high wind, and that really was the closest he came. Johnson is one who typically eases his way into a new year.
There is a part of him that can’t wait to get started, mainly because that means he is moving on, the only direction he knows.