Dustin Johnson: Back in the Saddle

Dustin Johnson has been on the shelf nursing a back injury since the WGC at Doral in March. So when he comes out, not only does he have a little rust on his game, he’s suffering from memory loss:

Well, obviously I’m excited to be back.  It’s been a long time.  It’s definitely been a long time.  I forgot to pack some stuff [all of his belts].  Wasn’t quite in the routine.  But getting back out here on the golf course feels great.  I’m excited to start playing again, and the game is starting to come around.

And he couldn’t have picked a better week to give it a try. Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament begins this week in Columbus, Ohio, and Johnson is very pleased to be there. It is a major catalyst for good golf to want to be somewhere and have them want you to be there just as much:

It’s a great golf tournament.  Jack does a great job.  He treats players really well.  The course is always in fantastic shape.  It’s always good to putt on good greens.  The greens are always perfect here, so it’s always nice.

The golf course, it’s just a good golf course.  You’ve got to hit good shots around here.

I believe you had a statement to the effect that the rust is coming off in chunks during the rehab.  With the particular injury that you had, what came back sooner and what took longer to come back?

Well, I really couldn’t do anything for, I don’t know, five weeks.  I really didn’t touch a club for five, six weeks.

It was kind of ‑‑ it was pretty tough.  I wasn’t hitting it very good.  I was hitting it okay.  I’d go in spurts.  I think the first time I played, I was like 6 or 7‑under through eight holes and then I was even through like 12 holes.  It was driver, just not driving the ball very much, because that was probably the last thing I got to work on really was the driver, so that was probably the thing that was the most sporadic.

This is right out of yesterday’s post on commitment, not so much whether Johnson has it, but rather just how laborious it is to build your game back up after you’ve let it go. Or in Johnson’s case, had to let it go due to injury.

Can you take us through exactly how you injured yourself and when you knew it was bad and when you knew you weren’t going to be able to play in the Masters?

Well, I hurt my back I think it was on Friday or Saturday.  I can’t remember what I did yesterday, so it’s kind of hard to remember exactly the day.  But I hurt my back just pushing a jet ski.  And then when I went to try to play golf the next day, that was when I knew it was injured badly and I was not going to be able to play.

This is what all Tour players live with, the thought that due to some fluke injury your career could be over: e.g., Phil Mickelson’s broken leg while skiing, Brandt Jobe slicing two fingers off while sweeping his garage, Lucas Glover hurting his knee paddleboarding in Hawaii and Steve Jones mangling his left hand while riding a dirt bike.

You just get back from one injury and you suffer ‑‑ you’re making progress and you suffer another injury.  What has your mindset been like, and how frustrating has it been for you?

It was definitely frustrating, because, you know, I had knee surgery and then I rehabbed that, and really, that went really well.  And then to have a back injury was pretty frustrating.  But I’m all healthy now and all good, and I’m ready to play golf.

And, as if on cue:

What have you learned from the last few months and these two injuries?

I don’t know, I mean, more or less you’ve just got to be kind of careful of stuff you’re doing and just kind of pay attention to what you’re doing, especially as I’m getting older (laughter), I need to pay a little more attention about activities that I’m doing.

Bubba [Watson] has hopes of playing well.  He doesn’t quite know what to expect.  How about with you, the way you’ve seen yourself be able to practice, and I’m not sure if you’ve had a round out here yet, but what are your expectations for this week?

I don’t know, we’ll see after Thursday.  But I’m expecting to play well.  I’ve had a couple weeks of practice and good work, so the golf game is there.  I’m swinging well.  Short game is pretty good, it just all depends on the putter, really.  If I putt well I’m going to play well.

You talked about if you play well then you get on the Ryder Cup team.  In your mind what does that mean?  What do you have to do?

Just have to play good golf.  Probably wouldn’t hurt if I won a tournament between now and then.  That would definitely help.  But you know, I’m just going to have to get in contention a few times and have some good high finishes and play good in the U.S. Open and the PGA.

The Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup are tremendous motivators for players. It is a unique honor to be able to say that you played on one of those teams. And it is an inestimable value to have those two things dangling in front of you as you go about rebuilding your game. “I can do this. I know that I can do this. And I want to do this so that I can make that team.”

And he draws the marquee pairing of Brandt Snedeker and Adam Scott to help kick off his efforts.

Tiger draws Bill Haas and Fred Couples, just selected Captain for the next U.S. Presidents Cup.

Phil draws Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson who is just coming off an ersatz “maternity leave” to be with his newly adopted son.

Rory draws Luke Donald and Keegan Bradley.

Some tasty delights for us this week.

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