by Brice Polender
Due to golf’s unpredictable nature in comparison to other professional sports, it is common to see a great deal of fluctuation in who is relevant. One of the contributing factors to this parity is that in no other sport do we see an individual like Jim Herman get hot to win a PGA Tour event for the first time in 106 appearances. Although this could be a springboard to future success, in all likelihood such a performance will not be replicated anytime soon. This specific scenario reveals why there are so many different winners on the PGA Tour. Herman represents a majority of players on the PGA Tour who have the potential to win on any given week if they play at their very best and catch all the right breaks. In a sense each tournament is a lottery where the odds are spread out relatively evenly, and those who are in the final group on Sunday are the ones who happen to be playing their best golf that weekend. When looking at winning an event from this perspective, it makes the top players who are able to win several times a year and at the biggest events all the more impressive. The most common rationale for describing a top golfer from the rest is that he either plays his best more often than everyone else, finds a way to win when he is not at his best, or most likely because his B+ game is equivalent to the field’s A+ game.
Because there is only one winner at an event in golf, that winner understandably receives the vast majority of the media’s attention. And because for most players, wins are few and far between, it is very difficult for them to stay relevant in the headlines on a consistent basis. Even for the game’s very best players, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy, we have seen that whoever wins the most recent tournament is portrayed by the media as the “next Tiger”. This past year started with all the expectations on McIlroy’s shoulders. However, all media attention shifted to Spieth after he won the first two Majors and was on the brink of history. Just when Spieth was locked in as the next Tiger, Day trumped Spieth’s momentum en route to a victory at the PGA Championship. And despite Spieth getting the best of Day at the Tour Championship, Day now stands as the guy to beat after winning the Arnold Palmer and WGC Match Play.
Heading into The Masters all conversation surrounds Day’s current streak, Spieth’s ability to repeat, and McIlroy’s pursuit of the Major that eludes him. One player who is being overshadowed by the aforementioned three is Dustin Johnson, whose 2015 season is perceived by many not for what it was, but for what it could have been. He won the WGC Cadillac Championship and had a strong showing at The Masters where he tied for sixth. It was at the middle two majors where the story was one of missed opportunity. With a chance to win the U.S. Open, his infamous three putt from twelve feet on the 72nd green was one of the more heart wrenching losses in recent golf memory. Despite this massive disappointment, Dustin rebounded to start the Open Championship by taking the 36 hole lead only to collapse in the final two rounds and finish tied for 49th. Refusing to let the disappointments at the previous two Majors keep him down, Dustin finished tied for seventh in the year’s final Major at the PGA Championship and continued his solid performance in the FedEx Cup Playoffs with top tens at three of the four events including a fifth place at the Tour Championship.
The only other players besides Dustin to record at least three top ten finishes at the Majors in 2015 were Jason Day, Justin Rose, and Jordan Spieth who finished top five at all four. Therefore, Dustin’s ability to maintain a consistent level is a reason for why he will capture an elusive Major similar to the way Jason Day broke through after barely coming up short on multiple occasions. And with the pressure being off Dustin and on the top three in the Official World Golf Ranking, it is now Dustin Johnson’s time to become the center of attention by way of winning the 2016 Masters.
Augusta National is famous for its lightning fast greens, thus making great putting and wedge play paramount in the battle for the green jacket. In fact, driving the ball long off the tee is perhaps the most overlooked part of being able to separate from the rest of the field at Augusta. It’s no coincidence that the tour’s most prominent long hitter in Bubba Watson is the only player to have won The Masters twice in the last five years. With the greens being as slick as they are, they present a challenge that is greater than putting itself, and that is being able to get one’s approaches to stay on the green and not roll off. Because of this difficulty, being able to use a club or two shorter on every approach is a huge advantage for those who are able to hit the ball long as the ball is more likely to stay on the green when coming from a steeper trajectory. Being the Tour’s leader in driving distance in 2015, Dustin Johnson carries this significant edge over much of the field.
This year Dustin Johnson is quietly off to a strong start and has hardly been mentioned in comparison to Adam Scott and Jason Day who already have two wins each. Dustin is third in top tens with five and has perfectly prepared himself for this week’s Masters by way of a third place finish at the Shell Houston Open with a score of thirteen under. Flying under the radar and possessing the necessary experience of having been in the hunt for a Major title, Dustin Johnson will get over the hump and put on the green jacket on Sunday.