December 21, 2010
Last week, I was walking towards The Kingdom, the given name to TaylorMade's driving range mecca, to meet up with a golfer most hadn't heard of a year ago. As I was headed over there, a female mentioned, "I don't care what people say, he's really hot." The other female in the group sheepishly agreed.
And there you have Dustin Johnson, a young man that sports a soul patch, a sweet swing, and a swagger that even basketball players might envy. Taking the corner, Johnson was pegged in the back of the driving range, smashing driver after booming driver with the new white TaylorMade driver set to release in 2011.
Dustin's story isn't exactly a fairytale type of deal, but until 2010, he was the forgotten star of America's young generation. While names like Anthony Kim and Hunter Mahan had been talked about for years, Johnson was just doing what most had hoped they would; win multiple tournaments.
He qualified for the PGA Tour in 2007, and won the following year, at the Turning Stone. He then took home the first of two Pebble Beach Pro-Am trophies in 2008, and battled for player of the year this season with two wins and two close calls at major championships.
The closest call obviously came at the PGA Championship, when a bizarre rules infraction on the 72nd hole cost him a place in a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson. What does Johnson remember from that?
"What a lot of people forget is I did a lot of things right to get in that position. I birdied 16 and 17 to take a one-shot lead," Johnson said while leaning back in a chair, going over stats of the new driver.
The heartbreak at Whistling Straits might have cost him a major, but the way he handled it, with the "aww, shucks" mentality he gave in the post-round interview, gained him a ton of fans across the country. Johnson could have whittled away after that, but he stuck to it, winning the BMW Championship later that year, his biggest victory to date.
So why does such a long hitter (third on tour last season at 308.5 yards per swing) play so well in these tough events?
"I like hard courses," Johnson admitted. "Most people think since I'm a long hitter that I like easier golf courses, but I like playing tougher courses."
Does that mean Augusta National, not far from his old Coastal Carolina digs?
"Augusta sets up really well for me," he said, matter-of-factly. "I just need to get the greens."
So where would he like to see his name atop next, heading into 2011?
"The Masters for sure," Johnson said. "I had the opportunity to play Augusta a few times [before turning pro], but never did. I wanted to earn my way on the course."
He has done so, and if you're looking towards a young golfer that has the mentality and game to take this next season by storm, don't forget about the slender man in the white pants.
I know those two ladies won't.