How Dustin Johnson became a Masters mentor

Dustin Johnson has quickly become a Masters veteran.

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AUGUSTA, Georgia — Dustin Johnson has been a loveable golf kid for so long it’s easy to forget he was growing up.

But it happened folks! He’s 37 now, slang for “over the hill” in most other major sports. He has children, a future wife, a gray hair or two. And … wisdom? You know it. At least when it comes to Augusta National, where Johnson earned a PhD in Course Management.

Ask Harry Higgs.

“I played with Dustin Johnson on Sunday afternoon and then Monday morning and kudos to him. He was a wealth of knowledge,” Higgs said. “He almost came over to me and started talking to me when I looked confused. He could almost say he was the same when he first came here.”

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In 2009, when DJ was still a kid, he played his first Masters at Augusta National. In 2022 he will play in his 12th game – a stretch that includes his win in November 2020.

In that time, Johnson has studied and absorbed every inch of the course, and like many seasoned golfers before him, that knowledge began to bear fruit during tournament week.

“DJ — on 16 if that flag lands over there on the right over the bunker — he said if you have a big number, be aggressive with it,” Higgs said. “Only in this bunker is fine. But if you don’t have a great number, you might play it short and left. Basically let it roll down the hill and be hole high. The putt, that 35, 40 foot throw is a lot easier from all the way up and to the left than if you were going to be aggressive, pull it a hair and roll down the slope and then you have that 35, 40 foot throw from the back hole.”

When you hear people talk about the importance of course knowledge for Masters veterans like Tiger Woods, they talk about details like this. At Augusta National, it’s not enough to know where to hit a shot—you also need to know where to miss.

For Johnson, these lessons are hard-earned. He previously had four consecutive top 10 finishes his breakthrough winincluding a second place finish by Tiger in 2019. Perhaps those lessons would have been made a bit easier if Dustin Johnson had had the help of his own Dustin Johnson.

“Little things like that take time to learn, don’t they?” said Higgs. “But, man, it’s no secret. You need to hit good golf shots from sunrise to sunset. Boys are really good, and most young boys, I don’t think they really pay attention to the moment. They get lost in what they’re trying to do. They trust in their abilities. They’re very confident in that and a lot of guys just want to show off. They want to prove to themselves and everyone else that they are capable of winning these things.”

Course knowledge is important, but in this case the source of that knowledge is a surprise. Johnson is under no obligation to share its trade secrets with its competitors. In fact, competitive logic would point to the opposite, which is perhaps why Tiger is such a closed book.

“You might have to ask Justin Thomas. There’s only one man in this field who listens to Tiger’s advice,” Jon Rahm said on Tuesday. “I’ve asked before and got nothing.”

Tiger is no longer the only adult in the room. That’s how it is with lovely children: Over time, they get smart.

“I think it’s just a way of maybe not being too aggressive. Hit the ball into the fairway. Hit it on the green,” Higgs said. “Again, all the clichés work, but to hear that from someone who won this golf tournament and was number one in the world and is world class at everything they do, then, okay, well, I better not play too aggressively . ”

James Colgan

Golf.com editor

James Colgan is Associate Editor at GOLF and writes articles for the website and magazine on a wide range of subjects. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, leveraging his broadcasting experience on the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 Syracuse University graduate, James — and obviously his golf game — is still thawing from four years in the snow cutting his teeth at NFL Films, CBS News and Fox Sports. Before joining GOLF, James was a caddy fellow (and clever looper) on Long Island, where he is from.

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