It’s been about five days since 24-year old Dustin Johnson coughed up an 82 after being the 54-hole leader at the United States Open at Pebble Beach. I waited five days to touch on it for a reason. Because I guarantee you that, in every waking hour since his melt-down, Johnson has thought about it. Some hours, he thought about it a lot. His 82 was the worst final round by a 54-hole leader in 99 years! And that’s why golf is, without a doubt, the toughest sport for any individual to excel at.
Incredible collapses happen in sports every so often. In this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Boston Bruins became just the third team in Stanley Cup history to blow a three-game series lead in a best-of-seven. In their case, there are about 23 guys, and a handful of coaches, who can discuss and emote what befell them with each other. Ditto Italy, after being stunned by Slovakia at the World Cup of Soccer. Dustin Johnson is all alone. Oh, he has a coach and a caddy and family but, on that Sunday at Pebble Beach, when it was coming completely apart, Dustin Johnson was all alone. He was the only one swinging the club. He was the only one watching his triple-double-bogey, front-nine stretch from the inside. And that can mess a golfer up for a long, long time.
After the round, Johnson said, “Playing so poorly, I still had fun today. You know, (I’ll) get it done next time.” No, Dustin, you did not have fun. And the fact you even thought to utter the word “fun” tells me you are messed up, man. And that’s why golf is the toughest sport – not only are you alone…but you have a horrible spectre sitting on your shoulder – it’s called “time to think.”
Several years ago, I was in muggy Victoriaville, Quebec, working at a Canadian Tour event. A 30-year old Kentucky native, Phillip Hatchett was on his way to victory. But, on the ninth hole, he missed a ridiculously short putt – maybe 14 inches. After the round, I asked him about the putt, and how he could possibly have missed it. He hung his head and muttered, “I had a bad thought.” It was that simple. Nothing more. Golf is executed with actions, but it’s played in your head. And Dustin Johnson’s head played a very, very bad final round.
Jack Nicklaus is proud of saying that he never remembers missing a putt of any consequence on the 72nd hole. Oh, he missed several of them…but the key is that he doesn’t “remember” them. And that’s why Jack Nicklaus is Jack Nicklaus. He is one of the few who can seemingly control what goes on up there.
Will we ever see Dustin Johnson in the 54-hole lead of a major championship again? Not likely. Like Scott Hoch before him, Johnson likely knows that was his one chance. At least, he’s probably thought about it. And, once you start thinking, you’re a goner. Right, Dustin?