Your Golf Identity

By : John Barnes

I recently saw something wildly entertaining and amazing. It was a YOUTUBE video of Dustin Johnson (The #1 golfer in the world, yes THAT Dustin Johnson) hitting a series of trick shots. Frankly, one does not have to be a golfer to find this video amazing. You may remember (if you are old, like me) the Nike commercial of Tiger Woods bouncing a ball off the face of his wedge a number of times, then popping the ball up and hitting it out of midair. Well, this video of DJ makes that Tiger video look elementary. In one sequence, Johnson CHANGES CLUBS while the ball is airborne, THEN hits it a mile out of midair. The finale is him holing (not just hitting) two chips simultaneously, a wedge in each hand. Check it out: YOUTUBE Dustin Johnson trick shots.

As impressive and entertaining as the video is, it occurs to me that many golfers might watch it to their detriment. Don’t get me wrong, DJ’s talent is more than impressive. It is just that some may wind up thinking some detrimental thoughts as a result of witnessing this talent. I can imagine some young golfers wanting to be able to do the same thing. I can imagine that some players would think things like “Geez, what chance do I have if the best can do THAT?”. Comparing oneself to this kind of extraordinary talent can leave you pretty deflated.

If after watching this video you feel inadequate as a Golfer, ask yourself this: How many of those trick shots did DJ use in winning the US Open in 2016? The obvious answer is none; he relied on his comparatively simple (and amazingly accomplished) golf swing to repeat itself in winning the Open. Actually, he did something in the course of the final round that was not near as flashy-and far more vital to his winning effort.

He controlled his mind and emotions. As elementary and boring as that may sound, it was a truly remarkable feat considering the circumstances.

You may or may not remember the scenario, so I’ll repeat it. Early in the final round (I believe it was on the 4th or 5th green), DJ’s ball moved slightly as he took his address to putt. He was sure that he did not cause the ball to move, and was not at address, so on that basis no penalty was needed. However, since TV and replay reviews are a part of modern golf, USGA officials would review the incident to determine if there should be a penalty. The officials informed Johnson that he MAY incur a two shot penalty; they would let him know after the round.

So imagine you are leading the US Open, and you are sure you did not break the rules, and are told that the officials will review film of you to see if you broke the rules. You are one-third the way into the round, you are attempting to win your first major championship (Oh, by the way, you 3-putted the 72nd green in the prior years Open to lose). You know you are right about what happened. Your playing partner agrees with you. And, to top it off, it is a really rotten thing to delay the ruling-how can you know where you stand?

How would you react?

Dustin Johnson reacted by merely focusing on what he could control. He merely went about the process of hitting golf shots. He stayed in the present. He stayed calm. He did not give energy to something out of his control. He ignored the injustice of the situation. In short, he did all the things we mental coaches coach our players to do, only DJ did it in the crucible of the final round of the US Open.

I find THAT feat far more impressive than what he pulled off in his YOUTUBE video.

Dustin Johnson no doubt put a lot of work and practice into developing those trick shots. I have no doubt that he also put a lot of work and practice into his mental game to prevail in the 2016 US Open. That kind of performance under that kind of pressure is not the result of an accident. Whatever form his training and experience took, his performance was intentional.

I believe that Dustin Johnson knows exactly who he is on the Golf Course. One look at him on the course and you just know the guy is totally comfortable in his own skin. “Well” you might say “that’s easy for him-he’s Dustin Johnson!” Granted, but what we have not seen is the path he took to his present point. Somewhere along the way, he had to discover himself as a golfer, and develop complete confidence in his game inside and out to be the player he now is.

It can be a trap to compare yourself to a great player like that. This trap can lead one to want to emulate that player, when in fact he may be one of a kind. In point of fact, YOU are one of a kind also. One great thing about golf is that there are an infinite number of ways to win. There is no room on a scorecard for a story; just a number. I remember in 2006, no one gave a short hitter named Zach Johnson a chance to win the Masters. Yet win he did. To win at the next level in golf, you don’t need to be Dustin Johnson. You just need to be at your best.

Think about playing your home course, the course you know and have played many times. At one time or another, have you birdied every hole? Is that something you can remember and draw on when you start a round poorly?
Having a strong individual Golf identity is a common trait in the best players in the world. They got to that point through experience and work both on and off the golf course. Knowing who YOU are and knowing that who you are is enough to win is something that happens before you ever hit your first shot in a winning effort.