PGA

Dustin Johnson: How Improvements Led to 2016 Major Success

Dustin Johnson’s game took a significant step forward this year, allowing him to claim his first major championship.

Dustin Johnson is usually quiet, shy, difficult to draw out in the press room. The 12-time PGA Tour winner is known for giving short, one-sentence answers with little detail — the complete opposite of Jason Day or Jordan Spieth, both of whom will talk your ear off, much to the pleasure of the media.

However, the success that Johnson has enjoyed in 2016 must have relaxed him. On Wednesday before the Tour Championship, he was talkative, expounding on changes he has made to his game and how they have improved his play. He now believes he can play even better.

“I feel like there’s still a lot of room for improvement,” he said. “I feel like now I’m playing consistently better golf.”

He said the improvement started with the driver.

“A lot of it started when I started hitting a cut off the tee and then cutting most of my iron shots. It just is a little bit easier for me to hit and definitely replicate over and over,” he explained.

Many noted golfers in the past have favored the cut, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino among them.

“My timing doesn’t have to be spot on for me to hit a cut shot,” Johnson said. “I can still get away with some misses that still turn out to be pretty good shots where, before, when I turned everything over, it was just — my timing was on that day, I was going to play good. If it wasn’t, I was going to play bad. Now I feel like each day I can go out — whether I’m — even if I’m not swinging my best, I feel like I can still compete.”

For a top-level golfer, ball striking consistency like Johnson’s is the gold standard.

However, the transition to hitting a cut instead of a draw is something he has worked on with Butch Harmon over the years.

“It took me a little while to finally hit one at a golf tournament. If I was at home practicing, I could hit it no problem. But if I’m standing in the middle of the fairway, it was hard for me to see a cut shot,” Johnson admitted.

“A couple years ago, it was during the offseason, I just went out and — I was struggling a little bit, and so I just said, I’m going to just cut it,” he added. “Started playing a cut just on every shot, just in the offseason, and I think a few days in a row I shot like 62 — 61, 62 or something, three days in a row, playing a cut shot, and I said, ‘I guess it worked. So I’ll keep on trying it.'”

In addition to learning to play a cut, Johnson has been consistent in practicing his wedge game. He said the biggest recent improvements to his game have been in that area.

“I feel like I’m driving it a little bit better than I have been in years past. My wedge game is definitely better. So if I do miss a fairway, I can just get it out to where I’ve got a wedge, and I feel like I’ve got a good chance to get up and down.”

Johnson also talked about the new routing at East Lake Golf Club, with the finish now on a par 5 instead of a par 3. He predicts it will add excitement at the end.

“I think they’re going to play it a little bit shorter than they have in years past,” he said.  “If you drive it in the fairway, you’re going to have a chance to go for it. It’s still a tough second shot, but you’ve got a chance to make an eagle on the last hole, which coming down the stretch, that’s always going to be exciting. Just be a little more exciting than 18, the old 18, which is a par 3, which is a very difficult par 3 at that.”

The old ninth, now the new 18th, has featured 236 birdies and eight eagles in the last five years. It will certainly provide a scoring opportunity for players as the tournament reaches its conclusion.

“That will be a lot of fun,”Johnson added.

Fun, yes, especially for someone who has a chance to lock up Player of the Year and the FedExCup $10 million bonus with a victory this week.

What do you think: does Dustin Johnson deserve Player of the Year honors? Let us know in the comments, and keep it here at Pro Golf Now for more updates on the career of Dustin Johnson.