#AskAlan: When will Dustin Johnson stop being labeled as an underachiever?

February 27, 2019

Every week, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck fields questions from the masses about hot topics in the golf world. This week, Shipnuck dishes on how many more wins DJ needs to get off the underachiever list, whether or not this is DJ’s year to win the Masters, why Rory isn’t winning, and more.

How many more majors does DJ need to get the underachiever tag off of him? Right now, he has DLIII’s career. #AskAlan [email protected]

Dustin is such a tantalizing talent that however many majors he wins it will never be enough. But clearly his current haul of one is absurdly low, especially given his many, many opportunities over the last decade. Two is not enough; there are plenty of very-good-but-not-great players who won two major championships (Daly, Janzen, O’Meara, Fuzzy, Andy North, etc.). Three majors is more rarified air, but Johnson has at least as much game as Padraig or Spieth or Koepka, though DJ clearly hasn’t figured out the winning the formula like this accomplished trio. The contemporary players with four majors is a short, macho list: Raymundo, Ernie, Rory. Five is getting into all-time legend status: Seve, Lord Byron, Phil, Peter Thomson. So, taking all of this into account, it will be a damn shame if Dustin doesn’t get to at least three majors. Four feels about right, but five might be a bridge too far.

Could DJ have looked less interested after winning in Mexico? Have we spoiled these stars beyond redemption, that a W and $1.5M doesn’t excite them? I wish players showed more emotion after winning. Your thoughts? #AskAlan -Brian (@bcunningham0)

I agree with your thesis but Dustin is the wrong guy to pick on – he never gets excited for anything! I sort of respect that about him. My colleague Michael Bamberger once likened Dustin in victory to Al Kaline after hitting a home run: What’s the big deal? This is what I’m paid to do.

Of the 20 wins DJ has, only seven have been in full-field events. For as much as people love the WGC events, it’s basically half a field. Is this a mark against him? #AskAlan -Paul (@BillsMafia3233)

Or, you could say that Dustin has concentrated his wins in elite events: WGCs, playoff events, Kapalua. The full-field victories have been strong, too: Pebble twice, Riviera, the Canadian Open, and, oh yeah, the U.S. Open. It’s true that it’s easier to beat 60 guys than 160, but Dustin’s wins are of such quality (and quantity) his record is beyond reproach.

Dustin Johnson notched his 20th career Tour win in Mexico on Sunday.
Getty Images

#AskAlan Why do you think Rory is not winning as much as DJ? -Col. Mohan Sharma (@mls01)

The answer was on graphic display in Mexico. When they were paired together for the final round Rory was consistently bombing it past Dustin, and by considerable yardage. But Johnson was vastly superior at everything else: more efficient course management, more accurate wedges, much better putting. McIlroy is playing at a very high level – he leads the Tour in total strokes gained – but when a tournament is on the line his scoring touch seems to vanish. It’s hard not to conclude that at this point the problem is entirely mental, given how sharp his game is otherwise.

Was Rory cheating when he told the official he would play away from the fairway to try and get relief and then did a different shot when denied? #AskAlan [email protected]

No, he was being a Tour pro. A maxim among these guys is that the rules can help you as often as they hurt you, and pro golfers habitually push the rules right up to the breaking point. No harm in Rory exploring every angle and every possible interpretation.

Tiger Woods, unusually, ducked the media after the 3rd/4th rounds in Mexico, assumed to be due to frustration over his putting. But with the big prostitution scandal in Jupiter, should we be worried? -Mark (@mocycling)

It was telling how many folks immediately went there with Tiger – his sex scandal was a decade ago but clearly still resonates. I’m assuming that if he, or any pro golfers, were mixed up in that sordid business the news would have already leaked, so hopefully the golf world is in the clear (beyond Jessica Korda’s boyfriend). Anyway, no doubt Tiger hates poa annua greens; it’s one of the reasons that a long time ago he cut back on his West Coast schedule. But throughout his long career he has always spoken after his rounds, in good times and bad. There are are more nefarious things at work here, namely his deal with GOLFTV to provide “content.” In Mexico it was obviously calculated for Tiger to snub all the hard-working scribes and speak only to his employers. Throw in Rory’s recent deal with Golf Channel and the monetizing of players’ musings is an ominous trend. When you cut out real reporters in favor of sycophantic leg-humpers on the same payroll, fans are only going to get bland, sterilized b.s.

Is “backstopping” a problem that needs to be addressed by another rule change (on the tours at least) or is it much ado about nothing? -Dave (@PopsAndSunshine)

Apparently I’m on the only person in the golf world who doesn’t really care about backstopping. I think it’s kind of tacky, but I simply can’t muster the appropriate outrage. When it happens it’s usually a function of laziness/cluelessness, not players looking to pull a fast one.

#AskAlan What is the over/under on Spieth wins this year, 1? [email protected]

Sounds about right, and Jordan is so woebegone right now that only the under makes sense. But I can’t quit him yet. I still believe that at some point this year Spieth will find a magic elixir, and when he gets hot he tends to turn molten. Jordan is so confounding he’ll probably put it all together the week of a major.

How much more security, if any, is required for PGA players when they travel to a place like Mexico City? #AskAlan -Daniel (@68shooter)

Yeah, Billy Horschel was a soothsayer. All the players (and reporters and support staff) stay in the Polanco neighborhood and you can’t believe how rough it is – there are Ferrari and Bentley dealerships there, but no Rolls-Royce. The horror! And if you look at the list of the top 50 restaurants in the world, Polanco has only two in the top 20. Most unnerving of all is that when you’re walking alone late at night people might actually smile at you and say hi. Thank goodness the Tour is now back in Florida, where all the people are normal and stable and nothing bad ever happens.

Vijay never lived down his alleged rules infraction many decades ago. Now we have a Sergio meltdown, Kooch fubar, DeChambeau apologizing for getting caught, LPGA ball- collision scandal and it seems all is quickly forgiven. Has the age of honor and integrity disappeared for good? [email protected]

Well, altering your scorecard by one shot so you make the cut on the number – as Vijay did – is pretty much golf’s original sin. It compromises the very sanctity of the competition. All of the controversies you mention here, while ranging from daft to embarrassing, do not meet that threshold. And, yes, the culture now moves on at warp speed, but misdeeds are also exposed to far more people. Clearly you haven’t forgiven/forgotten about what Kuchar and Sergio did, nor have many/most golf fans. I think golf still has a strong moral code, and the backlash to the incidents you cite proves that there remains strong policing of the game’s honor.

Who has had the ideal career based on these criteria: made a ton of $, moderate winning success, made a few teams, marketable enough to generate endorsement deals, but can otherwise remain completely anonymous when out in public. #AskAlan -Dan (@djdonof)

Pre-Tucan, I might have said Kuchar. But, on reflection, he’s so tall he stands out in a crowd and that goofy grin is a dead giveaway. He’s not playing so much anymore, but I think this award should be named for David Toms – he’s 17th all-time in money at $41.8 million. F’ing amazing. I think we can make a good case for Brandt Snedeker, but the floppy hair is too recognizable. I’m going with Bill Haas, who is about to pass $30 million in career earnings and yet the only people who recognize him are Nick Watney’s parents.

Will DJ win the Masters? [email protected]

If not now, when? One of the tragedies of his slapstick fall down the stairs in 2017 is it seemed doubtful he would ever roll into Augusta again with that kind of momentum. Well, here we are. Dustin turns 35 this year. It’s not quite now-or-never, but it is time.

Any chance the Lords of the R&A and USGA are going to open up another comment period? [email protected]

Gawd, I hope so! I’m pretty sure we would all learn some colorful new ways to conjugate all sort of profanity.