So much can go wrong over the final 18 holes, but Dustin Johnson is on the cusp of winning The Masters Tournament, a second career victory in a golf major that would erase any lingering doubt about his being one of his generation’s true greats.
With it will come all sorts of analysis over what brought him back to the front of the pack this year after going 16 months without a victory. Some will point to swing coach Claude Harmon III. However, Harmon points to someone closer to Johnson.
Dustin Johnson has had a successful PGA career
Dustin Johnson hit the ground running in his rookie season in 2008 by winning the Turning Stone Resort Championship late in the season for the first of his 23 PGA Tour titles. He hasn’t looked back since, carrying career winnings of more than $67 million – fifth on the PGA career list — into the 2020-21 season.
By winning the Travelers Championship shortly after the 2020 season resumed following the pandemic stoppage, Johnson became the third golfer – after Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – to win at least once in each of his first 13 seasons.
His first major championship came at the 2016 U.S. Open, when he rallied from four strokes behind Shane Lowry at the start of Sunday’s round to win by three strokes. It came early in a span in which Johnson has placed in the top 10 in 13 of 23 grand slam events.
For all his close calls, however, there hasn’t been a second major championship. That may change this weekend. Johnson holds a four-shot lead over Sungjae Im at the Masters with 18 holes to play.
Winning the Travelers Championship snapped a brief slump
Dustin Johnson had gone from July 2018 to February 2019 between victories on the PGA Tour. That doesn’t qualify as a meaningful slump, but what happened shortly afterward was an unexpected bump in the road. From June 2019 to February 2020, Johnson could manage finishes inside the top 20 just twice in 12 tournaments.
Not so coincidentally, Johnson spent much of that time away from swing coach Claude Harmon III, a third-generation instructor whose family has tutored many of the sport’s greats for decades. Johnson and Harmon were making progress before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the season in mid-March.
Three weeks after the resumption, Johnson won the Travelers Championship. He couldn’t hold the 54-hole lead at the PGA Championship, but Johnson closed out his season with wins at The Northern Trust and the Tour Championship, wrapped around second place at the BWM Championship.
His peers voted Johnson as the PGA Tour Player of the Year, and he regained the No. 1 ranking in the world.
Austin Johnson also deserves credit for Dustin Johnson’s success
Austin Johnson has been his brother’s caddie since 2013, meaning he has been on the bag for 16 of Dustin Johnson’s 23 PGA Tour victories. There are those who have been reluctant to give Austin credit since Dustin had already won seven times in five seasons before they became a team. Swing coach Claude Harmon III is having none of the speculation that Dustin, 36, is somehow carrying Austin, 33.
“Any time there are questions asked about A.J., it’s usually kind of a slap against A.J., and I think that’s complete bulls–t,” Harmon told The Athletic recently. “I think everyone makes this assumption that, ‘Oh, if (Dustin) had Steve Williams or some great caddie, D.J. would be better.’ Well … how much better can he get?”
Harmon regards the brothers as a perfect match.
“I think they’re one of the best teams on the tour, without a doubt, and I think A.J. is one of the best caddies on the PGA Tour,” Harmon said.
The reason Austin Johnson is suddenly getting so much attention is that he recently took over the responsibility of picking the aim point for his brother. Dustin Johnson still occasionally disagrees, but the two work well together.
“There was really no rhyme or reason to the change,” Austin Johnson said. “We were practicing and I was just dialing in my aim point, and it just kind of got to the point of, ‘OK, hit it to this spot right here,’ and, boom, they started pouring in. Then we took that out to the course.”