The way Claude Harmon III sees it, if a scientist was to hunker down in the lab and construct the perfect golfer … that golfer would be Dustin Johnson.
Harmon, of course, is biased because he’s Johnson’s swing coach. But he has a point about the latest Masters champion, who won his first green jacket on his 10th try Sunday at Augusta National, shooting 20-under par to set the new scoring record along the way.
“If you could design a golfer, you’d design Dustin,’’ Harmon said while standing beside the practice green, where Johnson was about to have his fresh 42-long green jacket slipped onto him by defending champion Tiger Woods. “He’s the living embodiment of everything every golf sports psychologist tells you — to stay in the present, have no memory. He’s a freak athlete. Other than Jack [Nicklaus] and Tiger, he has one the greatest golf minds in history.
“He’s a hell of a golfer,’’ Harmon went on, after a pause. “He doesn’t get enough credit for being the golfer that he is.’’
That last statement is true and incredible considering the depth of Johnson’s résumé. His 24 career PGA Tour victories are superseded among active players only by Woods’ 82 and Phil Mickelson’s 44.
Johnson, too, has won at least one tournament in each of his 14 years on the PGA Tour, 15 of his 24 wins coming since 2016.
It’s weird, though: Before he so impressively staved off the field to win his second major championship on Sunday, the narrative to Johnson’s career skewed far closer to the calamity and failure portion of it than the prolific winner part.
Johnson’s brain freeze at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, where he grounded his club in what he thought was a waste area but tournament officials told every player in the field that week was a sand trap, cost him a major.
So, too, did the final-round 80 he shot at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach that melted away the three-shot lead he took into the day.
Then there was the three-putt from 12 feet on the 72nd hole of the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, handing the tournament to Jordan Spieth. A one-putt would have won and a two-putt would have sent them to a playoff.
Even when Johnson won his first major championship, the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, that final round was marred with calamity, with USGA officials mulling whether his ball moved on a slick green after he’d addressed it (a two-shot penalty back then before the archaic rule was changed).
There were other incidents, too, like Johnson slicing his 2-iron out of bounds on the 14th hole of the 2011 British Open at Royal St. Georges, where he was in contention, trailing by two shots.
Some of these incidents, coupled with Johnson’s flat-line, aloof demeanor, led people who don’t know him to question his intelligence.
“He’s smarter than you think,’’ Rory McIlroy said.
“He’s switched on — more so than he lets on, I’ll just put it that way,’’ McIlroy said.
Perhaps Johnson’s most impressive trait — more than his amazing length off the tee, his beautifully-rhythmic swing, underrated short game and great putting — is his mind and the ability to shake off the disappointments and carry on to the next thing as if nothing happened to him.
“I think he’s got one of the best attitudes in the history of the game,’’ McIlroy said.
“The misconception about Dustin is that things don’t bother him,’’ Harmon said. “But he just doesn’t have any want or need to look back, because he knows that he can’t really change anything that’s happened in the past, and he can’t affect anything that happens in the future.
“When he missed that putt on 18 at Chambers Bay and was walking off the green in ’15 and I would have told you everything that would happen from that point on … would you have believed it?’’ Harmon went on. “The scars were supposed to be too deep. He was never going to come back from that. But look at the run he’s been on this year. Every single week he has a chance to win — second here [at Augusta] last year, second at the PGA [in August], sixth at the U.S. Open [in September]. That’s the type of stuff that Jack and Tiger did.”
Harmon called this Masters “an opportunity for him to flip the script and change the narrative.’’
“I think the narrative now looks very different than it did [Saturday] night — after being 0-for-4 with 54-hole leads [in majors] and all the things he’s done,’’ Harmon said.
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