Just in case he needs it this week, Dustin Johnson works on his bunker game during a Masters practice round Tuesday. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Dustin Johnson’s Masters plan: Just make it to first tee

Just don’t slip on any of the steps.

Given the breadth of his talents, the rest of the tournament should take care of itself. Long off the tee, deft with the high, soft rainbow approach, the No. 1 player in the world is custom made for Augusta National. All he’s got to do is get to the first tee without injuring himself.  

It was a year ago on the Wednesday of Masters week that Johnson, the clear pre-tournament favorite, tumbled on the stairs of his rental home, bruising his back. The irony of the most athletic guy in golf slipping and falling like a circus clown was palpable.    

Johnson and his sore back reported to the course Thursday morning. He went through the motions on the practice range and made his way toward the first tee before deciding he couldn’t go. And just like that, Sergio Garcia’s path to a first major got a little clearer.

Certain painful memories are unavoidable as Johnson returns to the scene, the legend of the fall having a year to mature.

“I get asked it every day out here on the range or walking down the fairway. So, I'm reminded all the time,” Johnson said Tuesday. “So, yeah, I definitely was thinking about it (this week). It is what it is. It was kind of just a freak thing and it happened. There's nothing I can do about it except I'm here this year. Hopefully I can tee it up on Thursday, and definitely be looking forward to that.”

Asked how he was planning to spend this Wednesday before the tournament, Johnson only said, “I'm going to take it really easy.”

In addition, may we suggest Bubble Wrap. Or one of those stair chair lifts.  

He is far less the pre-tournament focal point this year, thanks to the weather system created by Tiger Woods, as well as a long list of other top players who seem perfectly in tune. Still and all, he remains the No. 1-ranked player on the planet and he does have one win and two seconds in six PGA Tour events this season. He is not to be taken lightly.

Johnson rolled into here a year ago with his confidence spiking, a 10 on a scale of 1-to-10 he said. This year? “Probably a nine-and-a-half,” he said.

“Yeah, it's good. Starting to swing it a lot better. Feeling a lot better on the golf course, for sure,” said the man not prone to long soliloquies.
Just a little reminder here not to forget this fellow just because he took himself out of last year’s event. Chances are he’ll be more careful this time.

Johnson has progressively improved the more he has been exposed to Augusta National, finishing sixth in 2015 and fourth in 2016. Who knows what 2017 could have held?

“The more you play here, the more comfortable you get around this golf course. You know what tee shots and where to hit it and the flags and kind of how to attack the golf course. So that plays a part in it,” he said.

“Then I think just me as a golfer getting better, just having more confidence, hitting it better, driving it better, doing everything a little bit better always helps around here.” 

Dustin Johnson’s key to success this week, though, may lie mostly in the oldest of all sports clichés: Take it one step at a time. 

About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for the AJC, mainly for the Sunday section. He covers a range of sports and topics.» If you're not a subscriber, click...
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