By Mike Kern
It was another big day for Myrtle Beach. And Dustin Johnson, who played his college golf at Coastal Carolina.
Less than 24 hours after he was inducted into the Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame along with Hootie & the Blowfish, on Thursday Johnson officially opened the brand-new building at the Dustin Johnson Golf School at TPC Myrtle Beach.
“It’s definitely more than anything I would have imagined when I was growing up here,” said the 2016 U.S. Open champion, who just won his 20th PGA TOUR event, and sixth World Golf Championship title, in Mexico. “I spent so much time here, on the tees down at the other end of the (practice) range. To see what it’s become, a top-of-the-line facility, is amazing. It just feels incredible to be a part of it.
“It’s something to give back to junior golf and the Myrtle Beach community. This place was a very big part of my career. So it’s very fitting.”
As you’d expect, it has all the bells and whistles. Run by his college coach, Allen Terrell, it even includes a place to work on your physical fitness (which, as Johnson playfully suggested to emcee Charlie Rymer, might not be a bad idea to check out). Hey, top-rated junior Akshay Bhatia is already doing his thing there. And all the profits go back to benefit more junior golfers. A win-win.
“All this makes it easier to analyze myself,” Johnson explained. “It allows you to go back and see what you were doing when you were playing your best. The last two years, since (he injured himself falling down steps in his rental house) before the ’17 Masters, I was struggling. Even though I won a few times, I was doing the wrong things. I didn’t figure it out until the Monday before Mexico (began). Then it was all she wrote.”
He led most of the way and ended up winning by six on Sunday over Rory McIlroy, who shot 15-under par himself. It wasn’t near enough. When Johnson is right, that’s what he can do to a field.
“I want to feel the same every day,” he said. “I want to have control over my golf ball. Some weeks are going to be different. If you ever see me on the range without (a wing monitor), the machine’s not working. I don’t use all of the numbers, but it’s instant feedback.”
He then hit a wedge. Rymer asked him to gauge how far he carried it. Johnson said 115 yards. The machine showed he actually hit it 116.
“Well, if I’m that close I can handle it,” Johnson smiled.
This weekend at TPC Myrtle Beach, Johnson will host his fourth annual invitational tourney for some of the top juniors. It’s another way of helping those who dream of maybe becoming the next him.
“You name it, they’ll ask it,” he said. “They’re not too shy. I love talking to the kids. I have two of my own. That’s my passion. I’d rather hang out with them. But mine are young. They’re attention span is like three, four minutes. Then they’re on to something else. Like Dad.
“For me, as soon as I lose focus … Some days it’s 20 minutes, some it’s two hours. It’s different every day. I just play golf. It’s what I like to do. This brings more awareness to Myrtle Beach. You’ll see all levels of golfers come here. Some not so good. But they’re all trying to get better. That’s the point.
“The more I learn about myself, the more I know what I have to do. That means everything. We have the best tools to get better, if you want to. It’s an incredible opportunity.”
And for Johnson, who’s only 34 and has won at least once in each of his 12 seasons on the PGA TOUR, what more is out there?
“If I’m just considered a great player, that’s enough for me,” he offered.
To the people in Myrtle Beach, that’s merely a starting point. Because he’s leaving an indelible mark that can hopefully impact generations to come.
Mike Kern was a longtime sports writer with the Philadelphia Daily News who recently retired. In nearly 40 years at the Daily News he covered 25 Masters and U.S. Opens and nearly as many PGA Championships, as well as seven British Opens while winning many national awards for his coverage.