Driving with Dustin: Three long-ball secrets from the game’s greatest driver

January 15, 2019

Dustin Johnson is on the cover of this month’s new-look GOLF Magazine! Read more on the updated look here.

This is the first in a three-part instruction series, “Drive, Pure, Roll,” in which GOLF sits down with Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, and Jason Day as they share their insights. They’re all-world talents in going big off the box, pummeling greens and getting that little white ball in the hole. Here’s how they do it.

DRIVE with DUSTIN JOHNSON

Over twelve pro seasons, Dustin Johnson has evolved from unbridled long-bomber into the PGA Tour’s most consistent performer. He’ll tell you: He’s put in the work, developing his flexibility and strength off the course to improve the stability in his swing when he’s on it. It’s no coincidence that his driving game has matured, too.

The result is a calculated bomb-and-gouge method that marries power and control (he’s placed first or second in strokes gained off the tee six times over his last eight healthy seasons), making his biggest weapon the envy of the game—and maybe the most lethal in history. As he’s dialed in his wedges and putter, it’s no surprise that Johnson, now 34, has ascended to the top of the world rankings and that he has won more times—19—than anyone not named Tiger Woods over this span.

Dustin Johnson graces the cover of the relaunched GOLF Magazine.

When you see Dustin Johnson hit driver in person, you know. Long, straight and piercing, with a baby fade. Even among some of the game’s best drivers of the ball, he—all six-foot-four inches of him—stands out. At a recent long-drive competition among TaylorMade Golf ’s cadre of all-star staffers—Tiger Woods, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day among them— it was DJ who turned up the juice on the winning blast: a high screamer that carried—carried!—343 yards in the air. Dustin can hit 122 mph on the swing-speed meter. He’s elite. But as he’ll tell you, the yards pile up only when you catch the ball on the sweet spot of your driver. Strike quality is key. And for Johnson, what happens at impact is mostly determined by what’s happening at address.

Want to drive it better? Here’s what Dustin Johnson wants you to know.

1. COPY MY LAUNCH-PAD SETUP

“When I see anyone hitting driver, the first thing I look at is their setup. A lot of weekend players don’t drive it well because of their address fundamentals. It sounds simple, but if something feels off, reset your setup. Make sure everything is lined up—your feet, then your hips, then your shoulders. You can do it step by step, just like that. And how you align should sync up with the shot you’re trying to hit. I tend to favor a cut, so when I’m aligning my feet, hips and shoulders, I’m making sure they’re aiming slightly left of center. “But here’s the important part: Take a slightly wider stance, feet just outside your shoulders, with the ball off your front foot. When you do that, you should feel your shoulders tilt slightly back—right below left. It’s hard to fall off balance from here.”

Dustin Johnson
“You don’t have to swing hard. I swing it fast, sure, but how often do you see me finish off-balance?”
Patrik Giordano

2. LESS IS MORE

“Use the connection between your feet and the tee box to your advantage. Your wide stance will help you keep your balance, even with a faster swing. Keep in mind that you don’t have to swing hard. I swing it fast, sure, but how often do you see me finish off balance? My swing speed comes from a lot of work—in the gym, from stretching and from technique. That means that on most of my drives I’m going about 85 percent, maybe 90 if I really go after it. If I ever swung 100 percent, I’d have no chance at connecting.”

3. STICK TO YOUR SWING

“The way most recreational players are going to add distance is by making solid contact. Catching the ball in the center of the clubface is the main key to maxing out your yardage. Stay consistent! Take the same approach to any drive you hit. If you need to adjust the shot you’re hitting—say, if you want to hit a bigger cut—don’t change or manipulate your swing. Just change your setup. That way, you don’t have to mess with how you’re pulling it back or bringing it down. That’s the key to consistency, and how I do it in each and every round I play.”

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson has morphed from unbridled long-bomber into one of the best drivers in the game.

JON RAHM ON D.J.’s DRIVER

“I go 100 percent all the time. Rory and Jason, too. Then there’s Dustin, at 80 percent, flying drives just as far or farther than ours. DJ doesn’t have an extra gear. He has extra gears. Those extra 30 yards he can carry it past me… it’s crazy.”

JASON DAY ON DJ’S DRIVER

“I wish I had what DJ has. We held a long drive competition and he was hitting it 340- plus in the air. That’s insane! He’s a genetic freak. He’s tall, long-limbed and extremely athletic. The weird thing? He’s incredibly straight for how long he is. It’s unfair.”

Dustin Johnson
It doesn’t take Dustin Johnson long to dial in a driver.
Patrik Giordano

THE GEAR THAT MAKES IT HAPPEN

Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s V.P. of product creation, on DJ’s TaylorMade M5 Driver:

“Dustin can form an opinion on a driver very quickly and intuitively. What does it look like when he sets it down? What does it feel like? He’s such a good driver that it’s one or two shots before he knows if it’s dialed in. “I’ve worked with DJ a lot in tuning his gear. He has always gravitated toward adjustable-hosel drivers: M1, M3 and, now, TaylorMade’s new M5.

“During his first look at the M5 back in October, again, he hit one or two shots. The ball spin was a little low, so we moved the weights back. All of a sudden he’s got 12.5 degrees of launch, a ton of ball speed—183, 184 miles per hour—and flying it 330. And he’s doing it consistently. It wasn’t 100 percent ready, but Dustin tried to sneak that M5 in his pocket on the way out that day.”