AKRON, Ohio – Dustin Johnson played with his son Tatum and FaceTimed with fiancée Paulina Gretzky as he waited for his second consecutive victory to become official.
There were no signs of stress as the world’s No. 1 player, Jason Day, made a last-ditch effort to chase him down. Johnson wasn’t worried about who was pursuing him; he was too busy running after his energetic son in the scoring area at Firestone Country Club.
Those moments revealed a softer side. We’re usually watching him annihilate a golf ball, not hold a toddler with a father’s gentle touch.
Many a PGA Tour player has said fatherhood helped his career. Professional golf is an all-consuming pursuit. A child brings proper perspective. Besides posting two impressive scores this weekend, he spent Saturday and Sunday bonding with Tatum after Paulina flew home Friday.
“Just me and him hanging out this weekend. It’s perfect,” Johnson said. “He’s most important, and whether I shoot a good score or a bad score, when I see him, it doesn’t matter.”
Johnson has been shooting a lot of good ones lately. In fact, no one’s shot better scores over his past two tournaments. His consecutive 66s to close the Bridgestone Invitational allowed him to make up a six-shot deficit to Day.
The World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational was his second consecutive victory. The first? Of course, that was the U.S. Open he won two weeks ago at Oakmont that redeemed all those previous heartbreaks in major championships.
Johnson is now No. 1 in the FedExCup and second in the Official World Golf Ranking. He ascended to those lofty positions by winning at two courses that demand accurate driving.
He’s always been one of the Tour’s longest hitters, if not its longest. A newfound accuracy off the tee has helped the 32-year-old have the best season of his career.
Johnson drove it both long and straight this week. He led the field in strokes gained: off-the-tee (+6.05), was second in driving distance (341.1 yards) and fourth in driving accuracy (32 of 56 fairways). That club was key to conquering a course where he hadn’t had much success. His best finish in six previous trips to Firestone was 15th. He finished 53rd here last year.
“I definitely drove it better than I have in years past, and around this golf course it’s very important to drive it well. The fairways are narrow and the rough is deep,” Johnson said. “The driver was definitely the biggest improvement.”
Johnson’s trademark swing, with its bowed left wrist and closed clubface, can easily produce a draw. He changed his ball-flight before this year in an effort to hit more fairways.
“When I first came on Tour, I couldn’t hit a cut to save my life,” Johnson said. “I feel like my misses, I can get it in the fairway. With the draw, if I missed it, it had zero chance of it going in the fairway. Hitting a cut gives me room for error.”
Golf’s advanced analytics show the game’s longest shots are the key to sustained success. A good short game always helps, though. Johnson said his wedge game has improved, which allows him to take advantage of his long tee shots, and “the work I’ve put in with the putter is finally paying off.”
Johnson now heads to The Open Championship, one of his favorite tournaments, as the game’s hottest player. He was runner-up in the 2011 Open. He had a chance to win until hitting a 2-iron out-of-bounds on the par-5 14th in the final round. He was the 36-hole leader last year at St. Andrews before shooting a pair of 75s on the weekend.
“You’ve got to use a lot of imagination,” he said. “It’s completely different than what we do here. Ever since the first time I ever went over there, I’ve always enjoyed it.”
He’d love to add the Claret Jug to his 11 PGA Tour trophies, which currently sit in boxes as he waits to move into his new digs, but he’s having a special room built in which to display the fruits of his labor.
He doesn’t know the exact dimensions of that room.
“Hopefully I’ve got to make it bigger,” he said with a smile.
At this rate, he’ll have to.