You know the world’s officially been turned upside down when Dustin Johnson is smarter than Rory McIlroy.
Of course, DJ did go to University. He was a Coastal Carolina University Chanticleer (it’s a rooster, which is sort of fitting if you believe the old tour gossip) and graduated in Sports Management. Rory left school at 16 and had probably checked out completely anyway as a golf career of great reward lay ahead.
Rory has made up for the missed education by being naturally smart and reading a whole lot. Now he’s much respected (in golf, all things being relative) for his knowledge and eloquence.
I’m not sure DJ has picked up a book since being a Chanticleer, and it’s not clear he read that many when he was one either. The American writer Rick Reilly once described DJ as “so dense, light bends around him”.
Cruel, but still funny. And DJ’s actions on the golf course for many years reflected this with so many heinous mistakes that cost him major championships. It was telling that Rory, a close friend, came to his defence recently, saying that Johnson was far smarter than the public persona suggested.
Rory admits to chasing DeChambeau’s clubhead speed
Well, now we have proof. After a dispiriting defence of his Players Championship title ended with him missing the cut by miles – actually only his second missed cut since the Open at Portrush – Rory conceded he’d gone off whack attempting to match Bryson DeChambeau.
Rory is of course, not a short hitter by any means. He’s been more consistent at hitting it long and straight than Bryson has. But agog at DeChambeau’s speed at contact, Rory figured he had to match him.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t anything to do with what Bryson did at the US Open,” he said. “I thought being able to get some more speed is a good thing. I maybe just…to the detriment of my swing I got there, but I just need to maybe rein it back in a little bit.”
Distance isn’t even a problem for Rory
Pete Cowen, the no-nonsense swing guru, was spotted on the Sawgrass range with McIlroy. Hopefully he was telling him to stop all this nonsense, allied to some choice Northern English epithets.
Distance and power was NOT Rory’s problem. It has been, repeatedly, an inconsistency with the putter and his short iron game.
These weaknesses have been prevalent through McIlroy’s drought in majors since 2014. They’ve been under control at times, but keeping popping up like snowdrops in an early spring.
In addition, you could make a convincing argument that for all Bryson’s endless tinkering and experimenting, the one thing that has actually unequivocally worked has been the most basic – he put on lots of weight and got stronger.
It’s hard to believe that Rory, who we all thought was pretty switched on, could have been distracted in this way. When told of this, of course, DeChambeau took it as a huge compliment.
Johnson declines to enter the distance chase
DJ is, of course, plenty long himself. In one of the short media sessions at Sawgrass, he declined to join the distance chase.
“Not me,” he said. “I mean, I can hit it far, but I can’t hit it that far. I want to hit it straight though. My goal is to hit it in the fairway, not to hit it far.”
Okay, it’s not exactly Socrates (the Greek one, not the Brazilian). But it shows that DJ will not be deflected by Bryson’s very public restructuring of golf. He’s not dense, he’s in a Zen-like calm, in the knowledge that the last time he and Bryson teed up when it REALLY mattered, he was better by 18 shots.
A few others have decided that matching Bryson is not really attainable anyway, and have just sought to improve themselves within the parameters of their existing talents.
One such is Justin Thomas, who won the Players shooting 12-under on the weekend. Again, he’s not short by any standards, but it’s not a weakness anyway – when Thomas putts well, as he did on Sunday, he competes.
Big wheels keep on turning. 🎵🏆 pic.twitter.com/3zfo16k2S5
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 14, 2021
No point to the “Bryson rule”
DeChambeau had another good week at Sawgrass, finishing tied third.
There was much excitement pre-tournament for the “Bryson rule” imposed by the PGA Tour, creating an internal out of bounds after he airily suggested he might hit over the water to the 9th fairway off the 18th tee.
It’s more priceless publicity for DeChambeau. But not that much more than that, as the tactic surely would have brought absolutely no advantage – there is a large tree and corporate hospitality structures in the way of his potential second hit back across the water.
Bryson says he’ll keep his strategies secret from now on. But like his “potential” strategy for the 13th at Augusta never enacted, and what actually happened on the 6th at Bay Hill (he hardly would have fared worse playing the hole in orthodox fashion), one is suspicious that it’s all hype.
Westwood surely a certainty for Whistling Straits
Lee Westwood came up short in only a stroke at Sawgrass, but his re-invention of himself over the last 18 months at 48 has been massively encouraging even to those of us 10 years older.
He should be in Padraig Harrington’s Ryder Cup team now. I was there and remember only too well what happened last time he played at Medinah, but that’s a totally different golfer out there now.