PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club


Dustin Johnson: Becoming A Complete Player

By Dustin Johnson Photos by Dom Furore
August 24, 2020
Dustin Johnson

Photo by Dom Furore

People talk about my driver a lot. It's fun to hit it far, and my driver does put me in a lot of good positions on the course, as it did at the 2020 Northern Trust, where I won by 11 shots after shooting 30-under over four rounds. But golf isn't just about how far you can hit it off the tee. Scoring and winning tournaments happens a lot closer to the green. About three seasons ago, I realized I needed to take my wedge-game practice a lot more seriously. My short game has made me a complete player. As you might've noticed, I've really focused on that part of my game.

My world ranking has consistently been in the top 10 or so for the past five years, but I knew returning to No. 1 in the world would require serious commitment to my scoring clubs. Honestly, before a few years ago, I never practiced my wedge play. I mean, I'd hit wedge shots, but I never had a set practice plan.

The thing I needed to improve a lot was distance control. I'd never structured my practices with wedges in mind. I never really knew how far the ball would go with different swings in that 75-to-150-yard range. Literally, I would just guess. I was still fairly decent, but playing completely by feel.

That all changed when I bought a TrackMan and started charting my carry numbers. Once I knew how far I was hitting these clubs, I was able to come up with a system to improve my distance control. What I did was break it down to four shots for each of my wedges. I've got a half shot, a three-quarter shot and a stock full shot. The fourth I use only in special cases—I call it a max. For the max, you probably guessed, I just swing as hard as I can. For example, I'll use it for a tucked pin, downwind. I know that if I smoke a sand wedge, I can hit it really high and drop it close to the hole.

Dustin Johnson

Photo by Dom Furore

Having this system means that I now have a club and swing for virtually any wedge distance. For example, my lob wedge goes 85 yards if I use my half swing, 95 for my three-quarter swing, and stock is 105. Those numbers keep going up by 10 yards all the way up through my pitching wedge.

“Short-game confidence will free up your long game, too.”

Dustin Johnson

Photo by Dom Furore

When I'm laying up on a par 5 or playing a short par 4, I hit shots that will leave me one of those yardages. It pays off almost every time. In 2015, I was ranked 108th in proximity to the hole from 100 to 125 yards. By 2017, I moved up to ninth in the category and became the No. 1 player in the world ranking (for the first time). My system has really helped my confidence with these shots, and it's helped me learn more about my swing.

If I'm having trouble controlling distances, I know it's not the system's fault; there's something off in my swing. My usual miss is the ball coming out too low and going too far. I've learned that shot happens when I get my hands and the handle leaning too much toward the target at impact. So if I start seeing the ball come out hot, I know I have to keep my hands back and let the clubhead release. Other times, I get too steep with my swing. and I can't get the ball to do what I want, so I work on shallowing my angle of attack.

Funny thing is, all this work on my wedges has helped my long game, too. I understand more about my mechanics and have become more aware of what's happening when things are a little off. It's also helped me play more freely, because I know my short game will deliver.

My advice? Go to the range and work on dialing in your wedge yardages. Think of how many shots each round you have inside of 120 yards. Get most of them pin-high, and you're going to be dangerous. —with Keely Levins