Dustin Johnson a Big Hit
In the opening round of one of the WGC-HSBC Champions’ sister events, the 2017 WGC’s Bridgestone Invitational, Dustin Johnson smashed his admittedly downhill drive 439 yards at the 667-yard, par-5 16th. “It’s out of sight,” declared the astonished commentator – and it was.
Different nationalities react to huge hitting in different ways. In America they whistle and they cheer. In the UK, they come up with a “Wow!” or a “Cor!” and in China they shake their heads and give a chorus of disbelieving chuckles.
There will be plenty of those disbelieving chuckles this year as the six foot four inch Johnson, currently the World No. 1, is back at Sheshan to try and recapture the WGC-HSBC Champions he won in 2013. That year, his average driving distance was 305.8 yards but today it is more. By the end of the 2016, he was up to 317 yards – a figure which contributed to his season’s haul of 140 eagles and 279 birdies.
Mind you, this upward trend is everywhere apparent. The record books show how, back in the 1990s, “Long” John Daly was the first player and the only player to average in excess of 300 yards in a season. Twenty years on and there are as many as 43 golfers on the USPGA tour in the 300-yards-plus driving bracket – and countless more elsewhere in the world.
Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of Johnson’s length and strength is the extent to which this unassuming soul takes it all for granted. So much so that you would have to assume that he was never given too dramatic a role in his school play.
For example, in going through the details of his second-round 63 at Sheshan in 2013, no-one was less carried away than he was with his clubbing that Friday afternoon.
In a reference to the 550 yards second, he gave casual mention to how he had caught the green with nothing more than a drive and a five-iron. He was similarly unmoved when he said of the par fours that he never needed more than an eight iron for his second at any of them.
However, where he did sound a bit more excited was when, after winning that year’s event by three from Ian Poulter, he said that the time had finally come when he felt he would be able to finish things off in a major. “All the majors suit me and, if I play like I did today, I’m definitely going to win one soon.”
There was still no major in 2014 or 2015 but finally, in 2016, he bagged the US Open, the title which propelled him towards his present No 1 spot.
For a slightly different set of stats, Johnson comes to Sheshan this time around with as many as five World Golf Championships victories under his belt, having been the first ever to capture the full set. Meanwhile, by virtue of his 2017 Genesis Open win, he became only the third player in Tour history to win a Tour title in each of his first 10 seasons, joining Jack Nicklaus, who kept his winning run going for 17 years, and Tiger Woods, who made it to fourteen in a row.
If long drives are your thing, Johnson will not be the only huge hitter in town. Brooks Koepka, again from the USPGA Tour and the man who this year unseated Johnson as the US Open champion, averages a little matter of 311 yards.
Yet if that suggests that you have to be long to win a US Open, there are some facts and figures from the US Open of 2012 which suggest that length is not always a key factor. That year, Graeme McDowell was averaging under 290 yards when he made off with the trophy. Bubba Watson, who was at that stage the No 1 among the big hitters, failed to make the cut and declared that the course was “too hard’, at least for him.
Indeed, as recorded by the American scribe, Steve Eubanks, of all the players who were then averaging over 300 yards off the tee, Australia’s Jason Day was alone in making the cut.
No doubt someone will wonder why, when length is the theme, we are not giving a mention to Carl Cooper who played in the Texas Open of 1992. Cooper hit a drive of 787 yards after his ball bounced merrily down a cart track before switching to a maintenance road. Since the hole he was endeavouring to play was a par-four measuring 456 yards, a return-journey of over 300 yards came next – and with it a double-bogey.
Long drive though that was, it never qualified for the Guinness book of records. What did, however, was a shot hit by Mikhail Tyurin, a Russian astronaut who, on 23 Febuary 2006, teed off during a six-hour space walk. NASA estimated that the ball would orbit the earth for three days before burning up in the atmosphere after travelling 1.26 million miles.