For your game: Dustin Johnson
This story appeared in the Feb. 12, 2010 issue of Golfweek.
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Dustin Johnson's victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions gave him wins in each of his first six PGA Tour seasons. It's been a rapid rise for the long hitter from South Carolina. Johnson now works with famed instructor Butch Harmon, but Johnson first gained national attention at Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers' coach, Allen Terrell, also was Johnson's swing coach in college and during his early PGA Tour seasons. Golfweek visited Terrell and Johnson in late 2009 to get a better look at what they were working on:
Stability: Exercise and drills
Dustin Johnson derives plenty of advantages from his height, and not just the ability to dunk a basketball. His 6-foot-4 frame and long arms allow him to create the width and leverage necessary to be one of the PGA Tour’s longest hitters. Taller players often have a difficult time staying in balance, though.
“We wouldn’t have to work on this so much if he was 5-foot-6,” coach Allen Terrell said.
To work on Johnson’s balance, Terrell has him hit balls while standing on a half-foam roller or balance discs, or while standing on just one leg or with his feet close together.
Hitting balls on the foam roller “gets him to activate his core so he’s a lot more stable in his swing,” Terrell said. “It also strengthens and stabilizes his knees and ankle.”
Johnson has a tendency to lose balance early in his swing. He’ll rock to his heels, and his left arm will swing out, losing the crucial connection between the left arm and chest. This disconnect causes his left arm to swing too high during the backswing, making it tough for a closed-faced player to recover, Terrell said.
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Lower body: Keep the legs quiet
Closed-face players have active lower bodies in an attempt to keep the club square through impact. Johnson is no exception. The average player can learn from Johnson’s attempts to keep his lower body quiet.
“These are really good drills for a lot of people, because they’ve been told to get their right side through (the ball),” Terrell said, “but they leave their arms behind them and hit weak shots to the right. This gets them to feel the right foot not coming off the ground until impact.”
These two drills help Johnson quiet his lower body:
• A core stability ball is placed on the ground between his legs. He doesn’t want to feel his right leg put pressure into the ball until impact (pictured, right).
This gives him the feeling of the right side of his upper body “firing,” staying stacked over his lower body, Terrell said.
“He keeps his right knee stable a little bit longer, until his arms come down,” Terrell said. “It gives him the feeling of the right arm and right shoulder moving in front of the right knee and right hip before his legs get away from him.”
• Swings with a shaft on his feet, making sure the shaft stays in place until after impact.
“When he uncocks his right ankle, it makes his left hip go up and right hip go down, so he gets real tilted,” Terrell said. “That’s the dip people see.”
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Level swing: Downhill practice
Johnson has an unforgiving drill to eliminate the dip in his downswing – hitting balls off a downslope.
Johnson places the balls in the rough so that if he dips, the rough will accentuate the feeling of hitting the ball fat.
“It teaches him to keep his right shoulder higher coming into the ball,” said Terrell, who wants Johnson to hit 50 balls off a downslope each practice session. “Our goal is to try to get his shoulders less tilted at impact.”
Johnson’s dip is caused by his lower body tilting during the beginning of the downswing. It causes his upper body to fall back to his right on the downswing.
Terrell wants Johnson to “stay in the phone booth” during his swing. Terrell will hold two shafts just above Johnson’s shoulders during practice swings.
“It helps him visualize that his shoulders should work around a centered spine,” Terrell said. “He has a tendency to move back and up during the backswing. On the way down, we don’t want him to fall back and hit the sides of the booth.”
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Impact position: Right arm only
Johnson has learned on his downswing to slide his lower body and support his downswing arc with the left arm. This move creates inconsistent loft and face angles at impact, Terrell said.
Instead of the lower body and arms working together, Johnson’s legs “run away” from his arms in transition and make his release inconsistent.
That forces Johnson “to rely too much on timing to square the club,” Terrell said.
To feel the proper right-arm action, Johnson hits balls while holding the club with just his right hand.
“It gets my impact position a lot better because my right arm straightens (through impact), and my right elbow and shoulder get in front of my right knee and hip,” Johnson said.
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Putting: Harness the speed
Johnson has no problem creating speed with a driver in his hand. Sometimes he creates too much with the putter.
“The right hip releases, which is a power source you don’t want in putting,” Terrell said. “To compensate, he’ll decelerate, instead of accelerate, through impact.”
To get the feeling of the hips being quiet through the stroke, Johnson hits putts with his right leg dropped behind his left, and only his right toes on the ground. This closes his hips and makes it harder for them to turn in the through-stroke.
Johnson wants to focus on the shoulders, not the hips, bringing the putter through impact.
To do this, he’ll hole 3-foot putts without taking a backswing, instead “pushing” them into the hole.
“It gets his shoulders to bring the putter through impact,” Terrell said.
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Height: 6 feet, 4 inches
Weight: 190 pounds
Notable results: Seven-time PGA Tour winner; No. 12 in Official World Golf Ranking.
In the bag: R1 driver (11 degree, with Fujikura Fuel 2.0 X shaft), R11S 3-wood (15.5 degree, with Aldila RIP Series X shaft), R9 5-wood (19 degree, with Aldila RIP Series X shaft), RocketBladez Tour (3-PW, with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts), TP xFT wedges (54 and 60 degree); Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport 2 Prototype putter. He played a TaylorMade Penta TP5 ball.
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Coach Allen Terrell
Occupation: Director of golf, Coastal Carolina University; director of instruction, TPC Myrtle Beach