Sticking to your game plan pays off more often than not
By T.J. Auclair
Dustin Johnson vs. Jordan Spieth ... in a playoff.
What an incredible start to the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedExCup we saw over the weekend in the first-leg of the four-tournament series at the Northern Trust Open.
Johnson began the final round at Glen Oaks Club in Old Westbury, New York, trailing Spieth by three strokes, but the world's No. 1-ranked player rallied to defeat the three-time winner on the par-4 18th, the first hole of the sudden-death playoff.
It was on that hole where Johnson took advantage of a supreme talent he possesses in order to set up the win — his massive length.
The 18th hole at Glen Oaks is a 467-yard par 4 with a body of water up the left side. The green is elevated. A solid tee shot to the middle of the fairway for average-length hitters is no bargain. Like Spieth on Sunday, such a drive will leave a player with a downhill lie in the fairway and a mid-iron to the elevated green.
That wasn't the case for Johnson. He took an incredibly aggressive line directly over the water and smashed the week's longest drive on that hole, a remarkable 341 yards. That left Johnson with a measly 94 yards to the hole. Spieth, meanwhile, faced a 174-yard approach.
Johnson would hit his approach to within a few feet of the hole before brushing it in for birdie moments after Spieth two-putted for par. Tournament over.
Spieth didn't win. But he also didn't let Johnson's length advantage take him out of his own game.
Rob Labritz, PGA Director of Golf at GlenArbor in Bedford Hills, New York, estimates that he's played the 18th hole at Glen Oaks "about 100 times."
"I saw the replay a couple of times, but when DJ first hit the rive, I looked and thought, 'When it's downwind and I really catch one, I can get it over the water,' but that's certainly not the case from the tee they were playing. He was jacked up and 'Pow!' Having played that hole so many times, I couldn't believe that drive."
Johnson's length, however, is an intangible.
"If you're most players — or Jordan, in this case — you need tunnel vision when you're playing with a guy that long," Labritz said. "Stick to your game plan. You can't overpower a course like he can. While he's playing to his strengths, you've got to play to your own."
With a player like Johnson — a guy Labritz has also teed it up with — you're already aware of the length you're going to encounter on the course and the likelihood that you're going to be hitting your approach shot first most of the time.
Ignore it, Labritz said.
"Better, more experienced players don't care about what the other guy is doing," Labritz said. "It's one of those things where these guys are competing against each other all the time. 'Wow, that's long,' but not, 'Wow. I'm way back.' If guys like Jordan were intimidated by that, they wouldn't be where they are. It's a huge advantage though to not only have Dustin's length, but also the wedge game he's worked so hard on too. But to see Jordan, who doesn't have that length, dominate golf now is even better to me. I hope the associations take notice and see that we don't need longer courses. We need harder, firmer, faster courses."
The lesson to be learned here: Don't try to do something you can't — like manufacturer extra power that isn't there. Spieth didn't lose on Sunday, he got beat. And if you look at his track record, he's come out on top a lot more in those situations than not.
There was some discussion on Twitter among Tour players Ian Poulter and Wesley Bryan about whether or not the 18th hole at Glen Oaks was a fair hole for a playoff.
For the record, most playoffs in tournaments begin on the 18th hole — the crowds are already there and it's usually closest to the scoring area.
Labritz saw no problem with beginning sudden death right there.
"It wasn't some big surprise," he said. "The playoff is going to be where the playoff is going to be. If it had been Jordan against Webb Simpson we wouldn't even be talking about this. It's luck of the draw. Dustin has a talent. Length is a gift. He was able to lean on his gift on that hole in the playoff."