Golf Magazine joined the PGA Tour’s players and pretty much everyone else in golf in naming Dustin Johnson its 2016 Player of the Year, and the magazine has taken the most comprehensive look at the Coastal Carolina alumnus of any magazine to date in its January issue.
Johnson gave writer Alan Shipnuck of Sports Illustrated – Golf Magazine is part of the SI Golf Group – access to him at his home, club and within his inner circle, which includes future father-in-law Wayne Gretzky.
The seven-part section on Johnson covered 26 pages and was written primarily by Shipnuck with contributions from other writers. Revelations include:
▪ Johnson is greatly motivated by his new family, including fiancée Paulina, son Tatum and his future in-laws. “I’m so lucky to have the people around me that I do,” Johnson said. “To have their love and support no matter what, that means the world to me. Do I want to make them proud? For sure. Winning is a lot more fun when you have people to share it with.”
▪ Johnson and Paulina have moved their wedding to late 2017 at the earliest and have been putting the finishing touches on their dream home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., which includes a six-car garage.
▪ During Johnson’s six-month leave from the PGA Tour that began in August 2014 to address what he termed “personal challenges,” Johnson worked with a life coach and several clinicians to develop new mechanisms for coping with stress. He spent most of those six months at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where the Gretzkys are members and call home, or their favorite getaway at Gozzer Ranch Golf Club on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and played golf nearly every day with one or both of Paulina’s parents.
▪ According to his younger brother and caddie, Austin, Johnson did not know he was leading the U.S. Open at Oakmont in the final round until he was on the green on the final hole. “He came up to me on the 18th green and he didn’t even know how he stood,” Austin said. “He hadn’t looked at a scoreboard all day. I told him on the 18th green that he had a three-shot lead and he just goes, ‘Oh, good.’ ”
▪ Austin knew early in the year that Johnson was more dedicated to becoming perhaps the best player in the world. “At Riviera (in February) he scored okay on Thursday, but he didn’t have his best ball-striking day. It started raining during our last few holes and after the round he went to the range and worked in the rain for an hour and a half. He’d never hit balls in the rain, especially after a round. He was so dedicated this year, so focused. It’s like he was on a mission.”
▪ The morning after three-putting the final green from 15 feet to finish one stroke behind Jordan Spieth at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in Washington state, Austin, Wayne Gretzky and a few of Gretzky’s regular playing partners teed it up at 7 a.m. at Gozzer Ranch. They left Johnson alone, figuring he wanted and needed a break. According to one of the group’s members, Mike Mattivi, Johnson sailed a tee shot over them in the second fairway. “He comes roaring up and says, ‘I told y’all to wait for me.’ After what he had just been through at Chambers Bay, I was shocked,” Mattivi said. “Most guys would spend a week in bed hugging their pillow, but this kid loves the game so much he didn’t want to miss out on the fun.”
▪ Wayne Gretzky isn’t the lecturing type and hasn’t voiced much opinion on how Johnson should live his life. Instead, Johnson has learned through the example set by Gretzky and his family members, and Gretzky’s sage advice has generally been limited to the dedication and sacrifice required to become the best in the world in a sport.
▪ Johnson says he’s not pushing his nearly 2-year-old son into golf. “I just want our son to have good values and manners. As long as he’s a good kid, I don’t care if he plays golf or not.”
▪ Despite beginning the 2015-16 year as one of the top 10 players in the world, Johnson managed to improve his scoring average by a half stroke per round with small gains in numerous categories including putting from 0-6 feet, greenside bunker play, driving accuracy and wedge play. They all combined to help him lead the PGA Tour with an adjusted scoring average of 69.172.
Johnson begins 2017
Johnson is beginning his 2017 schedule this week at the SBS Tournament of Champions, a $6.1 million tournament at The Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii that is reserved for PGA Tour winners during the 2015-16 season and has just 32 players.
The start is just the second of the 2016-17 season for Johnson, who tied for 35th in late October in the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions tournament in China, and also tied for third in early December in Tiger Woods’ 18-player Hero World Challenge, which is not an official PGA Tour event.
The PGA Tour has already held seven events this season, and Johnson begins 2017 ranked 142nd in FedExCup points.
PGA Tour gets creative
The PGA Tour’s announcement that the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will adopt a two-man format in 2017, becoming the first official PGA Tour team event in 36 years.
As a traditional stroke-play event contested at TPC Louisiana shortly after the Masters, the Zurich Classic has struggled lately to draw strong fields; 2016 winner Brian Stuard was ranked 186th when he won the title.
The tour announced that Jason Day and Rickie Fowler will play as a team next April, as will Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson.
The new format will feature alternate shot for the first and third rounds, and best ball for the second and final rounds. The 80-team field will be cut to the low 35 teams and ties after 36 holes. The format will be best ball if a sudden-death playoff is necessary.
The top available players from the PGA Tour Priority Rankings will be able to choose their partners, as long as the partners are PGA Tour members or have received a sponsor exemption.
A four-ball team event had been part of the PGA Tour schedule from the 1920s to the 1950s. The last official tour team event was the Walt Disney World National Team Championship, which ran from 1974-81.
Early Web.com start
Myrtle Beach resident Roberto Diaz, who has full status on the Web.com Tour in 2017, has a chance to begin his season earlier this year because of the creation of a new event in the Bahamas from Jan. 8-11.
The Web.com Tour didn’t begin a 25-event season until late January last year, but a pair of new events in the Bahamas start the 2017 season and increase the schedule to 26 tournaments.
The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay Golf Course will be followed by The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic at The Abaco Club from Jan. 22-25 following an off week. Both tournaments will feature 132-player fields and $600,000 purses, with the winner receiving $108,000.
The two events will feature tournament rounds contested Sunday through Wednesday with all rounds broadcast live on Golf Channel. The early starts will help the Web.com avoid conflicts with both football and the PGA Tour.
Tournament series created
A new series of golf tournaments on the Grand Strand for both professionals and amateurs has been created, and it will benefit the Myrtle Beach Chapter of the South Carolina Junior Golf Association.
Derek Watson of Murrells Inlet, a former mini-tour player who is the merchandise director for the South Carolina Golf Center at Shaftesbury Glen Golf & Fish Club, is the director of the series, named the Carolina Coast Golf Series.
The series consists of two-person team best ball events offering cash prizes, and Watson is hoping to have up to seven in 2017.
The inaugural event is scheduled for March 25-26 at Long Bay Golf Club and has an entry fee of $300 per player. The event will include a $1,000 skins game each day, optional $200 team buy in for a cash purse in each flight, and closest-to-the-pin contests.
The tournament is limited to the first 60 teams and a full-field payout in each of up to four flights that are determined by first-round scores is $2,000 for first, $1,250 for second, $1,000 for third and $750 Callaway gift cards for fourth. Players concerned about amateur status can be capped at the USGA allowed payout of $750.
Other tournaments are tentatively scheduled late in the months of April, May, June and July and possibly late August, and the series will be highlighted by the established Low Country Open at Shaftesbury Glen Golf & Fish Club in early August.
Watson said he intends to pay fees to the Carolinas PGA so the events will be sanctioned for their members.
Watson, who assists SCJGA Myrtle Beach Chapter director Dale Ketola of Potential Golf with the running of the chapter and events, said he has created the series as a way to raise money for the chapter.
“My goal overall is to raise money for the junior program,” Watson said. “It’s a way to raise money and it gives people a place to play. It’s open to everybody. I want to give people more opportunities to play instead of the usual scramble tournaments.”
My goal overall is to raise money for the junior program. It’s a way to raise money and it gives people a place to play. It’s open to everybody. I want to give people more opportunities to play instead of the usual scramble tournaments.
Derek Watson, creator of the Carolina Coast Golf Series
In addition to Long Bay Club, other courses being considered for tournaments include TPC Myrtle Beach and Wachesaw Plantation. “I’m trying to get some of the better courses in the area involved,” Watson said. “People are more apt to travel to play those.”
Prospective players can visit CarolinaGolfSeries.com or www.facebook.com/ccgolftour, or contact Watson at 843-283-4195 or firstname.lastname@example.org.