2016 U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson is the favorite in Vegas to win at Erin Hills this weekend, and according to Skip Bayless, the world No. 1 could be on the verge of a dominant run that energizes the sport.
On Thursday's episode of Undisputed live at the U.S. Open, Bayless, Shannon Sharpe and Paul Azinger debated how many majors Johnson can win in his career.
Paul Azinger: The sky is the limit for DJ
“He leads the tour in distance, he leads the tour in greens-in-regulation, number one player in the world. He’s the most confident player - since the U.S. Open, he’s won five times and he’s got nine top-3s.
I think he’s probably the most confident player here. He just had a baby two days ago, I think fatherhood really changed Dustin Johnson. I interviewed him a couple weeks back, and I’d never really interviewed anybody. I was kind of nervous about it because he can give you that one-word answer pretty fast. But I talked to his agent, his agent said he’s never heard him say anything bad about anybody, ever. He’s just a terrific guy. I really root for Dustin Johnson.
He can overpower the place, and he’s probably the only guy in the entire field that can intimidate a little bit. Gone are the days when guys could intimidate other players. Social media’s changed that, I feel. They’re all congratulating each other… give me a break. I’m a little more of an old-school thinker in that regard. You can pat a guy on the back and congratulate him, but…”
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Will Dustin Johnson be able to remain focused?
“How many can he win? I’m going to go conservative, I’m going to say three. Because my question is will he take advantage of the talent? As you mentioned, he can overpower the golf course, he can hit the ball 350. He’s probably the most talented golfer that we’ve seen since Tiger.
I agree with you, Paul. The days of ‘I’ve got Tiger, you take the field,’ those days are over. I don’t believe we’ll ever see a situation like that again. The questions that I have, and I think a lot of people have for Dustin Johnson is will he have the mental focus, tournament in, tournament out. Especially at these majors.
We’ve seen the distractions he’s had off the course, we don’t need to get into that. He shows up at the Masters this year and somehow he falls down a step. I treat major tournaments in golf like the lottery - you can’t win if you don’t play.
That’s my question. We saw him miss what, a four-foot putt a couple years ago to get into a playoff - and that what it takes. I know this, in order for you to win major tournaments and win them consistently, you have to be focused for four straight rounds. You can play great one day and then shoot yourself out of the tournament the next.”
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Paul Azinger: Dustin Johnson has learned how to approach the game mentally
“Dustin Johnson came out of college the second-ranked amateur in the world. He won his first tournament on tour, he won again the next year, now he’s got 10 straight years he’s won a tournament. So he’s learned how to think.
I asked him ‘who taught you how to think?’ He thinks his college coach helped him as much as anyone, but he failed, a lot. It’s not always what you accomplish that matters, sometimes it’s what you overcome.
For him to lose the way he lost in such dramatic fashion in 2015 and come back and win in 2016? Something snapped, something flipped in a positive manner for that guy, and he’s learned how to think.
The most cliche think we talk about is never getting ahead of yourself, and he said ‘I never got ahead of myself, it’s the best I’ve ever focused.’ They came up to him on the 12th hole on Sunday [last year] - he had a two-shot lead - and they said ‘we’re going to re-look at your ball going on five, and we may give you a penalty.’
I asked him ‘what was that like for you?’ He said ‘you know, I just put it behind me. I figured why should I worry about what I did on No. 5? I’m on No. 12.’ And he stayed in that moment. And that’s the hardest thing for a good player to do. It’s the great challenge in life, really.”
USA TODAY SportsRob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Dustin Johnson can start to fill the void left by Tiger Woods
“Unfortunately, the two biggest recent stories in golf, to me, were Tiger’s mugshot and news that Tiger had gone through a fourth back surgery in four years, and this one the most serious of all.
So it’s highly possible we’ve seen the last of Tiger as far as competing in these events. Being a big factor in a major championship. It’s been since the ’08 U.S. Open since he won a major.
I look at Dustin Johnson as the biggest new lightning rod who could come closest to filling the Tiger void. He’s obviously not going to ever be Tiger Woods, but I’m seeing some physical genius in this guy - even though he’s almost 33 years of age - that’s he’s starting to come to grips with. As an athlete, he’s close to Tiger, maybe closest to Tiger. For a while I’ve thought ‘well, I know he can blast it 400 yards, but is he really just that 6-foot-4 inch brute who’s capable of making the big mistake at the big moment, taking the big penalty at the worst moment?’
And now I’m starting to say ‘wait a second, there’s a real gift here for shotmaking that could make him if he starts closing these deals he hasn’t closed.’ He could reel off a couple of majors, three majors in a row. What if he wins out the rest of this year? I know it’s a tall order… at least we would have something to bridge the gap Tiger left in golf.”