PGA Championship

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The Loop

Dustin Johnson knows how to stay in the zone

September 12, 2016

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Dustin Johnson proved it at the U.S. Open, when he dealt with the king of all distractions and still won going away.

At the BMW Championship, it was more of the same--and Johnson has now established himself as one of the stronger closers on tour. He does it by matching huge power and and a single-mindedness that blocks out negative thoughts about what happened earlier in the day--or what could happen ahead.

"When a player's thoughts and feelings are 100 percent in line with their intention, the game looks easy," says Iain Highfield, the director of mental training at Bishops Gate Golf Academy outside Orlando. "But this state of 'flow' can be broken at any time, like it happened to Jordan Spieth at the Masters."

The zone gets interrupted when players shift their focus away from the shot at hand. "The mind becomes a time machine," says Highfield. "You start thinking about the trophy, or the winner's check, or the exemption that comes with winning. Or you go backward and start thinking about the three-putt on the hole before, or the bad drive from three holes ago. Those new thoughts create different feelings, and different neurochemicals start pouring into the brain. That easy flow turns into your swing feeling like it's being played on fast forward."

Johnson came to the last hole with a three-shot lead over Paul Casey and could have played a "safe" long iron off the tee. Instead, he followed his regular plan and smashed a driver 329 yards right down the middle--leaving him a 135-yard wedge to the green. "Dustin has created a mental pattern that won't allow a shift in focus," says Highfield. "He knows the driver is the biggest weapon in his bag, and he got up there feeling confident he was going to launch one. He did, and ended any hope Casey might have had to get into a playoff."