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Friday, June 18, 2010

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Johnson And Pebble - Made For Each Other

Johnson Watches
Dustin Johnson watches his putt on the second hole Friday. (John Mummert/USGA)

By Thomas Bonk

Pebble Beach, Calif. - The way he carries himself, Dustin Johnson appears about as emotional as one of those water-sculpted rocks resting idly in Carmel Bay off the coast of Pebble Beach Golf Links.

In fact, that's one of the reasons for Johnson's success, according to Butch Harmon, his swing coach.

"Oh, he's still a work in progress, but he plays with a lot of confidence and he's got the perfect demeanor for golf," Harmon said.

Just two shots behind Graham McDowell and tied for second with Ernie Els, Ryo Ishikawa and Phil Mickelson after two rounds of the U.S. Open, Johnson is a picture of peace, serenity and calm. Maybe it's because he's once again in a comfortable area code at Pebble Beach, where he earned back-to-back victories in the 2009 and 2010 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

If Johnson is going to make it three for three, he'll need to call on his inner harmony again. He needs to duplicate how he handled a certain telling situation in the first round, Harmon said. After Johnson messed up and double bogeyed the 14th, he came right back and birdied the 15th.

"That was huge," Harmon said. "He has the ability to put mistakes behind him and move on."

That probably comes close to matching the precise qualities required to win the U.S. Open. Of course, having the ability to launch the ball into near-orbit doesn't hurt, either.

With a 36-hole total of 141 after rounds of 71-70, the big-swinging 25 year old from South Carolina has driven into solid contention for what would be his first major title, besides making it three straight overall at Pebble Beach.

"Whenever you have success at a golf course, you get a lot of confidence," Johnson said. "So I've got a lot of confidence at this golf course and it sets up very well for me.

"As long as I stay patient and just keep driving it and hitting it like I am, I'm going to be around."

In terms of service in the line of duty, Johnson hasn't been around that long, coming out of Coastal Carolina University. He won the Turning Stone Resort Championship in his rookie year in 2008, won again last year when he triumphed for the first time at Pebble and is staying on track this year with another victory at Pebble.

Besides winning, Johnson is also known for his prodigious length off the tee - he averages 303.6 yards, second only to Bubba Watson on the PGA Tour. First in eagles and ninth in birdies on Tour, Johnson has moved to 29th in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Harmon said there's room for improvement.

"He can get better, but he's getting there pretty fast," Harmon said.

The primary direction of Harmon's teaching is to work on Johnson's game from 125 yards and closer, to control the flight of his ball and the distance he hits his wedges. They are also working on a cut shot, something Johnson didn't have when he turned pro.

Johnson, who hit his driver seven times Friday, doesn't change the way he tackles Pebble Beach, whether it's a PGA Tour event in February or the U.S. Open in June. He attacks it with aggression. And Bobby Brown, Johnson's caddie, said it is not possible to separate the two.

"Dude, whoever says winning at Pebble Beach before is not a factor is full of it," Brown said. "He sees things here, he sees the greens and he knows how to miss it. He's not missing much.

"Dude, there's a vibe here. I can feel it and Dustin can feel it, too."

Indeed, Johnson said he feels it. He has made himself at home at Pebble Beach the last two Februarys, so maybe flipping the calendar to June should make little difference. Johnson said he isn't going to worry about it anyway, and you probably can understand why. It's just not his nature.

Thomas Bonk is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA Web sites.


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