Not to keep harping on Dustin Johnson, but the profile in today’s New York Times about his summer of choking, made me think he has a real chance of being clutch and winning a major championship. The ruling that cost him a chance at a playoff on the last hole of the P.G.A. Championship – two penalty strokes for grounding his club in what few, including him, thought was a bunker - will be debated for quite some time. But as I said in this post, the bigger issue was him not controlling the moment. He choked on the tee box when he hit the drive that landed so far to the right in the first place. And in the Sunday Times story he said as much himself: “I should have never hit my driver.”
This is important for him. It shows he took responsibility for his mistake – and didn’t blame his loss on the bunker, the rules officials, or anything else. Failing to take responsibility is one of the most common reasons why people choke under pressure. Accepting it won’t make you clutch, but it will put you on the path to becoming better under pressure.
Dustin Johnson lost his second major golf championship in the final round on Sunday, but this time the attention focused squarely on the rules official at the P.G.A. Championship who called Johnson for grounding his club in a sand trap. This is a no-no by the rules of golf, and Johnson was assessed a two-shot penalty – for touching the sand twice. Much of the talk centered on the call. Was it really a sand trap if fans are standing in it with you? Was this pretty pedantic call the best thing for a suffering sport, as Jason Gay asked?
What no one has talked about is Johnson failed in the clutch for the second time this year. He choked coming down the 18th hole, and even though it was not as spectacular as how he choked at the U.S. Open in June, it had the same outcome: he lost.
Think of it this way. After rolling in a long birdie at the 17th hole, Johnson was leading the P.G.A. Championship by one stroke on the last tee. The smart play would have been to hit a club that would have put his tee shot into the fairway and get out of the hole with an unexciting par and the victory. This was what Lucas Glover did when he won the U.S. Open last year. He hit a six-iron off the tee and a nine-iron to the green, where he two-putted for victory. Johnson choked right off the tee by hitting a Phil Mickelson-like drive into the gallery. The next shot flew over the green. The one after that came up short. Then he missed his par putt weakly to the right for a bogey – before the two shot penalty. What mattered was he did not control the situation, which is one of my definitions for choking at the highest level. Johnson had the ability to par that hole with more conservative shots but he did not do it. The pressure got to him.
This may not be any consolation for Johnson, but Bubba Watson choked just as badly on the last hole of the playoff: he tried to hit a hero shot that ended up in the water. (That he thinks the shot was the right one is troubling for his future chances at major tournament victories.) What did the winner, Martin Kaymer, do? He had a worse lie than Watson, and after watching him smack his shot into the water, Kaymer chipped his ball out about 20 yards, hit his next onto the green and two-putted for a bogey and the victory. It wasn’t a glorious finish. But it was a victory. And under pressure, you don’t get style points: you either succeed or fail.
A few weeks ago in my Wealth Matters column, I wrote about the miseries of owning a second home. It was one of those New York Times columns that hit a nerve. Readers had plenty of things to say about it, with the majority having similar horror stories.
Then Pauline Frommer asked if I’d like to come on their radio show she does with her father Arthur Frommer, the famed travel book writer. I jumped at the chance. I wanted to spread the word about the “Naples Effect,” a little known phenomenon that affects people in sunny climates. Here’s my segment on The Travel Show from WOR in New York to hear more about it. I come on halfway through.