A Final Thought - Was Dustin Johnson Just too Cool?

When what's now come to be called "Bunker-Gate" went down... on the 18th hole at Whistling Straits a few days ago... there was something that immediately occurred to me.

It's something that hasn't really been discussed, but I think it was illustrated... to a degree... in a recent post by the intrepid and engaging Stephanie Wei at Wei Under Par.

Here's what I'm talking about: it seems there's a certain "culture of cool" among a group of younger players these days. This idea of never showing any intensity or emotion... never letting yourself look excited or nervous. Play fast, always make it look easy, never sweat the small stuff, etc.

And while this mindset can often work to one's advantage in golf, it can also lead to fatal errors.

And the thing is, Dustin Johnson is/was the proverbial poster boy for this attitude... and perhaps, that could be part of what happened on Sunday. This resistance to being too cautious, too meticulous, too intense... too much like "the old guys"... may have ultimately caused him to overlook a significant detail.

The Wei Under Par post is illustrated with close up photos by the awesome Allan Henry of Golf Chronicles/US Presswire who was, quite literally, in the bunker with DJ when the incident occurred. He communicated with Stephanie shortly after the fact and she writes:

"Allan wonders what would have happened if DJ would have taken a little more time. He described DJ as “relaxed, loose and almost jovial,” “I don’t think his pulse was above 65,” he said. “The immensity of the moment didn’t get to him. Maybe it should have gotten to him. Maybe he should have said to the gallery, ‘Can you guys move a little bit?’”

There was no tension in the air. If it hadn’t been for the gallery, Allan said it felt like a practice round — not the 72nd hole of a major championship with Johnson having a
one-stroke lead."

That little snippet clearly illustrates what I'm talking about... and what might ultimately be the take-away here: the fact that golf, by it's nature, sometimes requires intensity and caution and mental checklists. Those overly-cautious, old-school characteristics that some of the younger players seem to shun... are sometimes exactly what's needed to win.

In Dustin Johnson I first noticed the "coolness" thing at Pebble Beach when he went into the final round of the US Open with a three stroke lead and then quickly, shockingly crumbled. It must have been devastating, yet he never really allowed himself to look like he cared that much, he never appeared emotional or intense, displaying instead just a slightly frustrated, "oh well" type of demeanor. It was much the same at Whistling Straits, and in the end many expressed admiration for this very coolness.

That being said, the long-hitting South Carolinian is clearly an extraordinary talent, who'll certainly be in contention often at PGA Tour events in the years to come. Perhaps this incident will help to put the "culture of cool" in perspective for him... and other young players... and allow them to be "uncool" from time-to-time, on those occasions when "uncool" is exactly what's needed to win.