6:30 | Tour & News
Tour Confidential: Who is the best player in the world right now?
By Alan Shipnuck
Tuesday, August 29, 2017

That Dustin Johnson-Jordan Spieth duel sent a charge through the golf world… and this mailbag. Let's get to it:

"How do you rank DJ's playoff tee shot in golf history? I was amazed personally. It took a lot of balls to try it but it paid off handsomely." -Pat (@155Marathons)

It is certainly the drive of the year. It added to his considerable legend. But as cool as it looked, especially enhanced with ProTracer, it was a pretty comfortable carry for Dustin. And, let’s face it, history isn’t really made at the Northern Trust Open.

"Despite the result, the best shot I've witnessed was DJ's drive on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay. #Blast" -@LinksNation

Bingo. That 350-yard missile would have to go down as the drive of his life, given the fraught situation, the many landmines in that fairway and the sheer awesomeness of the execution. The 5-iron that followed was every bit as stellar. Had Dustin nudged home the ensuing eagle putt, we would still be singing songs about those two shots.

DJ putt

DJ's putt on the 72nd hole was the type of moment that legends are built on.
Getty Images

"As stunning as DJ's drive in the playoff was, his drive at the 72nd hole was awful. Which was better, the birdie or the par? #askalan" - @linksplayers

Oh, the par for sure. Under extreme pressure, Dustin managed his game and emotions beautifully and then poured in a do-or-die putt, the kind of moment that can define a career.

"So much talk about DJ overpowering the 18th hole, do you think not enough credit was given to him for actually attempting that shot?" -Parth (@Parth6594)

As noted above, he stepped to that tee having just minutes earlier uncorked a wild drive that nearly cost him the tournament. It took a tremendous amount of belief to then attempt what he did. It was also a brilliant decision, allowing him to exploit the one clear advantage he has over Spieth, who afterward rued not taking on the same challenge. We all joke about how Dustin is not the most, uh, intellectual of players, but he is very, very good at playing the percentages. A veteran Tour caddie once watched him play five hands of blackjack simultaneously for a solid hour. With all the splitting of cards and doubling down, the dealer twice failed to pay out the correct amount. "Dustin caught it instantly," says the caddie.

"Why can't Spieth hit the gym or whatever and become a bomber? Not DJ’s fault he hits it a country mile. Take advantage of your skills." - Craig (@craigm27)

This comment was a reply to PGA Tour winner Wesley Bryan, who tweeted at me,"If you fly it 315 then you have a 100 yard wide fairway on 18..... It's a shame that it ended because of a long drive contest in the playoff." But our man Craig has makes a good point: hitting it long and straight is the greatest weapon in golf and should be rewarded. It certainly helps to be 6’4", but everything Johnson does in the gym and on the range is to maximize his power. Spieth is a tremendous athlete who was a stud in basketball and baseball growing up. He could make a longer backswing and swing out of his shoes to generate more distance, but he’s chosen to throttle back for control and consistency. That a choice he’s made, and it comes with drawbacks as well as benefits. The talents of long hitters are often diminished, as if they simply lucked into all that extra distance. Give them their due.

DJ driver

Why do people act as though driver distance is pure luck?
Getty Images

"Would you give up one of your testicles for a hole-in-one? You won't get it back when you succeed. #askAlan" - Al (@AlanFairweather)

As eager as I am to make my first ace — I wrote about my ongoing plight in the latest issue of GOLF — I have to say I’m rather fond of my testicles. Both of them. They’ve served me well over the years. So I shall decline your very generous (and somewhat troubling) offer.

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"Does pace of play apply to the last group over the last holes? I got so frustrated, I started timing Spieth. On one occasion it took him 2:51 for a putt. #AskAlan" - John (@jkellegrew)

It’s supposed to! But a cagey veteran like Spieth knows that the PGA Tour has given out exactly one slow-play penalty in the last 22 years and there’s no way the rules officials – who are Tour employees – are going to spoil a thrilling duel at a marquee tournament. So, like plenty of others, he takes his sweet time and there no repercussions beyond your frustration.

"Who is the POY?" - Wyatt (@WJZangl)

It’s still a two-horse race between Spieth and Justin Thomas. JT has a slight edge with one more victory (4 to 3) and the buzz of both his 59 and 63. Spieth loyalists can counter that his wins are more marquee (Birkdale > Quail Hollow; Pebble > all of JT’s other wins). Where it gets interesting is if Spieth and Thomas don’t win any FedEx events and Dustin takes one more and the Cup. That would give him a Tour-best five victories, all of them big-time: Riv, two WGCs, two playoff events. We all fixate on majors, but DJ would have a very compelling case, especially given the fluky injury that compromised the middle of his season. So, stay tuned.

"This might a dumb question, but here goes: if one wanted to learn the basics of playing golf, which would be the best book to buy? Thanks." - Angel (@morales59)

There are no dumb questions…only dumb people. Anyway, one of the most revered books in the sport is "Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf." But it’s not really written for beginners and Hogan’s idiosyncratic ideas about the swing are not for everybody. I find Jack Nicklaus’s "Golf My Way" to be more accessible and better suited to beginners. It’s definitely worth checking out. But we all have unique skill-sets and differing natural tendencies and no book can account for these quirks. If you’re serious about learning the game it would pay to invest a little money in lessons – even low-cost group lessons – so you start with proper fundamentals and don’t develop bad habits you’ll have to work hard to overcome.

"Which of the four playoff events deserves the ax in 2019 when the Tour wraps up its season by Labor Day? #AskAlan" - Dan (@djdonof)

The Tour Championship! It’s so f’ing dull. Part of the problem is the dreary venue, East Lake, which has no pizzaz archtecturally and small, lifeless crowds. The other issue is the FedEx structure. At the Tour Championship only a handful of guys actually have a realistic chance to win the Cup – the rest are just going through the motions, burnt-out by the FedEx slog and content that they’re getting guaranteed money and World Ranking points and various exemptions for the following season. A major tweak to the format (match play!) and/or the points structure is needed to make the Tour Championship relevant. Otherwise, it could disappear entirely and no one would really notice.

"Your thoughts on walk-up songs on the 1st tee - would the PGA Tour allow it? What would yours be if you were a pro? #askalan" - Christie (@ThatAssetThough)

Strong Twitter handle, by the way. The Euro tour experimented with walk-up music at this year’s event at Abu Dhabi and it was great fun. The PGA Tour seems less likely because, well, it’s the PGA Tour. But given the golf firmament’s general obsession with courting Millennials, you can never say never. As for my jams, I’m going with "Can I Kick It?" by A Tribe Called Quest, because that beat is good for one’s swing tempo. If I need to get myself pumped up a bit more the choice is the opening strains of Arcade Fire’s "Wake Up." And if I need to drive one 400 yards off the first tee, I’m blasting AC/DC’s "Thunderstruck." The 1990-91 Salinas High Cowboys - which, as everyone knows, went 24-3 to win the Monterey Bay League championship - used to play that before our basketball games and that song still has a physiological effect on my person.

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