Playing the mental game may be the only way to beat Dustin Johnson

The No. 1 golfer in the world, Dustin Johnson, is on a hot streak, winning three tournaments in a row just a couple of weeks before the Masters. There’s only one person who could advise on how to slow down the powerhouse from completely dominating at the Masters, and that’s Jordan Spieth.

Stroke-play tournaments aren’t mano a mano affairs, to be sure. However, in major golf events, the winner often comes out of the last group. In the case of the Masters: the final pairing. And perhaps even more importantly (and particularly in majors) it’s important for golfers not to beat themselves.

This brings us to the case of Mr. Dustin Johnson. DJ is both the hottest golfer in the world and one of the longest hitting. He’s also known to play incredibly quickly. Thus, the experience of teeing it up alongside the Carolina native has to be an unnerving one: He’s playing more quickly than you, he’s probably playing better than you, and he’s almost certainly driving the ball 30 yards past your meager effort off the tee (for the average PGA Tour pro).

Longest Hitters in Golf History

SEE ALSO: Las Vegas reveals list of favorites for 2017 Masters

Heading into the Masters, Dustin Johnson is rightfully the favorite at all sports books. Some intrepid reporter decided to ask a past Masters champion, one Jordan Spieth, for his thoughts on getting the best of the top-ranked golfer in world.

Spieth wisely began his reply with a defense of his own golfing abilities.

“If I play my best golf, I believe that I can take down anybody and you have to believe that,” the world No. 6 told reporters before the start of this week’s Houston Open. But I think that he is the guy that everyone is saying he’s playing the best golf in the world right now.”

The world No. 6 offered his take on how to top his Ryder Cup teammate, as well as the pitfalls players must avoid.

“Fortunately I’ve played a lot of golf and competed against him on the weekends. I’ve been successful against him, which is a huge advantage, just having done it before.”

OK, Jordan. But for those players who haven’t been successful?

“The way to do it is to not get caught up in his game. The thing that’s difficult about beating Dustin Johnson is, you get on the tee and by the time you’re hitting your second shot you’re already at a disadvantage on the hole. It’s trying not to feel that way and trying to recognize that you add them up at the end. There’s a lot of ways to do it.”

Spieth drilled down on the optics and perception problem of playing with Johnson. And frankly, if you’re the sort of player who gets caught up on what your opponent is doing, you’re not going to win the Masters anyway.

“If you feel like you’re disadvantaged every hole, even though you are percentage-wise when you both hit a good tee shot, you’re probably not going to have a chance to beat him.”

If it comes down to a final-round showdown between Johnson and Spieth, it sounds like Jordan is banking on a bit of the ole intimidation factor: “He knows which guys have taken him down and are capable of it and he knows which guys are probably not going to be able to. And fortunately I feel like, you know, I can.”

To this we can add the fact that Spieth has a green jacket (nearly has two), and Dustin Johnson doesn’t. Further, if you take a look at DJ’s scores from past Masters, he tends to falter down the stretch at Augusta National, which is a tendency only exacerbated by pressure. Although his mental fortitude at the U.S. Open surely shows that he is capable of blocking out the noise to win a major.

SEE ALSO: The curious statistical case of Dustin Johnson’s rise to dominance

Ultimately, not since Tiger Woods’ most recent period of dominance in the early 2000s has a player entered a major so clearly a cut above his competitors and so well-suited to overpower a golf course. It will be eminently interesting to see the fortunes of Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.

Is it April 6th yet?

Start the discussion

to comment