Dustin Johnson: No Time To Panic

Posted by: mike November 3rd, 2017

By Jeff Shain

Golf Insiders contributor

 

You could say Dustin Johnson is in some fairly distinguished company.

Johnson now stands as the seventh player in PGA Tour annals to take a six-stroke lead into a final round and walk away empty-handed. Of those, Greg Norman is in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Three more are fellow major champions – Hal Sutton, Gay Brewer and Sergio Garcia.

So DJ has that going for him. Not that anyone would ever desire to be on that list, but it’s another good illustration of how this game can take anyone down a peg on a given day.DJ

On Sunday, the WGC-HSBC Champions offered a perfect storm to humble the man currently atop the world rankings. Blustery winds offered conditions not seen all week at Sheshan International. Johnson’s short game deserted him. And, of course, someone needed to get hot and flip the table.

“It was the perfect type of weather conditions to make a comeback,” Justin Rose told the media after taking possession of the Old Tom Morris Cup.

“This is the type of day, when you are playing with a lead, every hole seems difficult. … And obviously my back nine was just amazing. It was one of the best back nines I've played in a long, long time.”

Rose harnessed the wind for a 5-under-par 67, carding five birdies on that back nine. Johnson shot 77, going birdie-free when each of his first three rounds had produced no fewer than six.

Three years from now, which do you suppose will trigger our memory banks? (Sorry, Justin.)

“I didn't make any putts,” Johnson said. “I felt like I rolled it good; just nothing was going in the hole.”

That’s the standard response when a golfer can’t quite put his finger on where things went off-kilter. We’ve heard it from Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros, Phil Mickelson, Garcia, Rory McIlroy, and a whole bunch of guys without major titles on their portfolios.

Upon further retrospective, Johnson recalled the two poor chips that opened the door for Rose. The first came at No.14, costing him a much-needed birdie chance on a par-5.

“That was probably the key there on 14. I just chunked it,” Johnson said. “Same thing on 15, I just chunked it. That cost me two shots there. And then bogeying 16, that's just bad.”

Admittedly, it had been a while since Johnson’s Sunday allergies – not a physical malady, but as a colleague once put it, “allergic to Sundays” – had raised their head. Seven wins in the past 16 ½ months, including his first major title, seemingly had put that to rest.

But it sure didn’t take long in Sunday’s aftermath to revive those old flashbacks.

The three-shot lead at the 2010 U.S. Open that was gone in the first three holes, ending in an 82. The bunker-rule blunder two months later at Whistling Straits that cost him a playoff spot in the PGA Championship.

The final-nine duel with Darren Clarke at the 2011 Open Championship, coming to a premature end when DJ’s where-did-that-come-from second shot at No.14 sailed out of bounds.

Perhaps most painfully, the three-putt at Chambers Bay that sent him from possibly winning the U.S. Open to taking Jordan Spieth to a playoff to jaw-dropping second.

Say this for Johnson, the guy takes high-pressure disappointment in stride. “I just gave a few away,” he said Sunday.

Perhaps that’s why it was a little surprising to hear Sunday’s broadcast team ask what kind of lingering effects might play on Johnson’s psyche. If the events of Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits, Royal St. George’s and Chambers Bay didn’t knock him down for long, why would this?

By the time DJ pegs it in January, what happened in China will be a blip in his memory bank. Heck, chances are it was all but forgotten by the time his plane landed in South Florida.

Even Norman won again – twice – after his 1996 Masters collapse set the gold standard for blown Sundays. Sutton and Garcia did all right for themselves after theirs, too.

Those Sunday allergies can be pesky sometimes. But for a player with Johnson’s talent and perseverance – and laid-back demeanor – they’re certainly not fatal.

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Jeff Shain is a former Orlando Sentinel golf writer, part of nearly two decades covering the sport that includes other stops at The Miami Herald and The Island Packet in South Carolina. He's also a digital contributor to PGATour.com and Pro Golf Weekly, and co-hosts the Prime Sports Golf podcast at PrimeSportsNetwork.com.