Twenty-three years ago, at the Masters, the legendary Sir Nick Faldo took Dustin Johnson’s putter out of his pocket to challenge him to a 10-foot putt, which he lost by a mere 2-feet. Everyone in the gallery applauded the confrontation. Many more were satisfied to see a clip of Faldo’s next move. He opened up his batting helmet and imitated Johnson, moving the ball around and spraying it hither and yon. If you watch the entire five-minute video, you’ll find no explanation of why he did this: “Nothing like a little turbulence.”
If you’re hungry for more fantastic Faldo and do not reside in England (or even in the U.S.), bring yourself to YouTube and try the grainy video embedded below, which captures a less-than-stately Faldo aiming for the flagstick at the 18th hole at Augusta National after his 2008 Ryder Cup singles loss to Rory McIlroy.
Johnson, now 27, has been an international phenom since his first PGA Tour victory, at the 2012 Phoenix Open. There is nothing particularly new about the character of his performance, but in the past two years he has accumulated 17 victories and counting, and he might be the greatest golfer in the history of the sport — at least since Tiger Woods emerged as a young man and McIlroy and Sergio Garcia lapped the field by leaps and bounds. Whatever one might think of the game and its history, it has to be said that Johnson is a genuine and refreshingly cheerful phenomenon.
“He’s simply one of the best players in the game at any age,” said Golf Digest last year. “He’s such a good student of the game that he understands the game’s many intricacies. He has something rare, a real love for the game that brings out his best.”
If Johnson holds up to the weight of his talent, he might well be the best ever to lace up a putter on either the PGA Tour or Europe’s PGA Tour. Others have puttered along, ending their formative golf years only to fail to follow it up with any more decisive success. Does Dustin Johnson stand to emulate this success after he abandons the game to raise a family? Many critics, as well as Faldo, regard Johnson’s golf outbursts to be wholly inconsistent. It’s a rough, knife-edge situation. He may prosper for a lifetime or he may lack the makeup necessary to become a legitimate great golfer. Either way, I’m glad to see him keep plowing, like Peter Gardner, the “Rain Man of golf.”
Meanwhile, enjoy Johnson’s recent conquest of the 112th PGA Championship at the Quail Hollow Club near Charlotte, N.C. on Sunday.