British OpenJuly 13, 2015

Here's what Dustin Johnson said -- and didn't say -- in his first press conference since his U.S. Open loss

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Sitting through a press conference with a player like Dustin Johnson reminds me a lot of watching other people play chess. I know that something meaningful is happening, on levels I can barely understand, but for the most part it's very dull, and if you're not paying close attention, you'll miss the moment when something actually happens. It's not in Johnson's personality to reveal anything about himself even if he wants to, and to make matters worse, he never wants to. Considering that dynamic, I've struck what I consider a very fair compromise: He doesn't say anything, and I don't go.

View image | gettyimages.com

The difference today is that aside from a brief scrum with a handful of reporters in the moments after his brutal three-putt, this was Johnson's first media appearance since the debacle at Chambers Bay. If any Johnson media appearance can be called appointment viewing, this was it. So I sat down beside the metaphorical chess board, girded my brain, and tried to figure out what was happening beyond the dead eyes and the cliches. Here's what I took away:

1. DJ was very prepared for this one. His agent, David Winkle, sat in the front row, and whether he or another consultant schooled Johnson, it was clear he was ready for questions about Chambers Bay. Sure enough, Karen Crouse of the NY Times got the mic first, and asked about how long it would take him to get over it. I promise the next paragraph will be the last time I use Johnson's words at length, but the act is worth studying, if only once:

"Not very long," Johnson said, like a student who was gratified that the teacher asked him a question he knew. "I was happy with the way I played and the way I handled myself coming down the last few holes. I thought I hit the shots that I was supposed to hit. You know, I did everything I was supposed to. It wasn't too difficult to get over it. Obviously I was a little disappointed I didn't get the job done, but you know, I was definitely happy with the way I played."

In my opinion, that's basically watered-down nonsense that doesn't begin to describe the pain he must have felt, and it reeks of a memorized, pre-written response, but if that's the party line, so be it.

2. He kept using the word "bounce" when referring to his putt on 18, and it was not a mistake:

"Hit a good putt on the way back, and it just bounced and missed left."

" I felt like I was hitting good putts, just it's tough to judge bounces."

"Coming down the back nine, I was hitting the shots that I wanted to hit. Unfortunately the ball wasn't bouncing in the hole."

I loved that he did this, because contrary to the crafted answer above, it shows a residual bitterness, and it also gives us an insight on to how he's choosing to cope with the loss -- by blaming the greens. See what I'm saying about how you have to pay close attention to get anything out of these pressers?

For the record, I think the video is inconclusive as to whether the putt actually bounced or whether he just pulled it, but I will note that in the post-round scrum, he was far less certain. Sometime over the past month, he's become convinced that the bounce was definite.

3. He got angry once! John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal asked him about the short putts he missed on the back nine, and DJ practically snapped -- by the standards of his own flat affect, anyway. It's truly one of the first times I've seen him show real emotion with the media, brief as it was:

"I don't know if you watched the telecast, but I think pretty much everyone missed a lot of putts."

4. If you were curious, he spent the Sunday after Chambers Bay in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, with Paulina, their son, his brother, and some other family. Further details were not offered.

5. Speaking of details, vagueness was the word of the day. Asked whether a loss like Chambers was a learning experience or a scar-inducing moment, he said it was a learning experience, but didn't elaborate on what he actually learned. When asked about what Wayne Gretzky has taught him about competitiveness, he gave a truly impressive, roundabout answer:

"I mean, we really haven't talked a whole lot about that. Obviously he plays golf, but just for fun. I mean, we do spend a lot of time together, just haven't really got in depth about anything like that. Just more -- I learn more from Wayne just like watching him and seeing what he does and asking him questions about when he was playing and things like that."

Sorry, I promised I wouldn't do that again, but I'd like to analyze that response. Here it is, translated: "I don't learn anything about competition from Wayne, because we don't talk about that. But we do talk, specifically about his competitive days, and I learn from that."

That's quite a verbal journey, right? In any case, DJ has been paired with Spieth by the cruel masterminds at the R&A, and though he claims not to care -- shock of shocks -- it will be fascinating to see how this plays out. It will certainly be better than watching chess.

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