Dustin Johnson’s outrageous career trajectory enhanced with another WGC-Mexico Championship win

Twenty wins. Not a lot if you’re a professional basketball team or professional tennis player or even a professional football team (except for maybe the Cleveland Browns). But for a professional golfer in a sport where winning 3 percent of your starts is considered prolific, it’s an embarrassment of riches. Scrooge McDuck swimming in World Golf Championship plates and jugs instead of gold coins.

Dustin Johnson grabbed the 20th PGA Tour victory of his career on Sunday at the 2019-WGC Mexico Championship in his 246th start (an 8-percent winning percentage by the way). If you want to break them down further, here’s how they look.

  • Majors: 1
  • WGCs: 6
  • Playoff events: 4
  • Other PGA Tour events: 9

You’ve likely seen all the numbers by now. Most PGA Tour wins since 2008. Fifth man in the last 50 years to reach 20 wins before age 35 (Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller and Phil Mickelson are the others). Just the 38th ever to 20 wins and first in over a decade. He’s done it all in the middle of an influx of probably the most talent top to bottom the PGA Tour has ever seen, too. 

That’s what’s been remarkable. We see extraordinary players in every era, but to see someone obliterate all-timers like he did Rory McIlroy on the weekend, well it’s a gear most don’t have and the ones that have it often can’t find it. D.J. seems to be able to summon it at will, at the snap of his long, spindly fingers.

“He just played great this week,” said McIlroy. “Hats off to him. He’s arguably the best player in the world. And he’s got two wins already this year, and he has been one of the best players for a long time. It’s nice to play with him. I always feel comfortable in that group. You wouldn’t think he’s trying to win his 20th PGA Tour event. He just looks like he’s playing another round of golf at the Bear’s Club at home.”

Johnson has been on a tear in the last few years, too. He won roughly one tournament a year from 2008-15, and then he just blasted himself into space and has now won 11 of his last 55 events. 

Eleven of his last 55!

I’m always fascinated by trajectories and historical context so let’s provide a little bit of both. First, historical context. This is the exact same path that *looks around to make sure nobody is looking too closely* Phil Mickelson traveled. Lefty won 19 of his first 246 events (albeit at a younger age than D.J.’s 34), and Johnson just usurped him with his 20th in his 246th start. 

Here’s a look at their history on the PGA Tour, courtesy of Data Golf. Mickleson is in blue, Johnson is in yellow.


Data Golf

Maybe even just as remarkable is that though they don’t share the same style, they certainly do share the same criticism. They should have won more based on talent. Where are all the major championships? Through 20 wins, Johnson has one major. Mickelson had none. His first didn’t come until win No. 23 in 2004 at the age of 33 in nearly his 300th (!) start. That’s why I get a little hesitant to go in on the “get back to me when he wins multiple majors” chatter with D.J. For all we know he’s going to win three of the next 10, and now we have to start talking about him as one of the 10 or 15 best to ever play the game.

That’s where the Johnson conversation will ultimately end because we’re overly obsessed with major championships, but that’s certainly not where it starts or even where it should sit as the remainder of his career plays out. So let’s do some projecting. 

If, over the next five years, Johnson wins at even half the clip he’s been winning at for the last three (again, 20 percent) that means he’ll win one of ever 10 tournaments he plays. Splitting his production in half seems pretty reasonable given the run he’s on.

He plays about 22-24 events a year so that means 2.2 or 2.4 wins a year for the next five years which is about 11 or 12 more and gets him to 31 or 32. Only 15 golfers have 32 PGA Tour wins, and now you’re starting to talk about rarefied air with each victory. 

Here are the men he would tie and surpass at each mile marker for total wins.

  • 21: Davis Love III
  • 22: Raymond Floyd
  • 24: Gary Player
  • 25: Johnny Miller
  • 29: Lee Trevino
  • 31: Jimmy Demaret

Whooooo boy. You’re starting to talk about some of the greats: Player, Miller, Trevino. That’s heady stuff, and an arc that would surprise nobody given the way Johnson is currently striking the golf ball. So what if he wins at the 20-percent rate he’s winning at for five more years? That’s 22 more wins and would get him past 40. Only 10 golfers have ever won 40 or more times on the PGA Tour.

“I’ve still got a long way to go hopefully, and hopefully I’ve got a bunch more wins to put on my resume before I start thinking about [the hall of fame],” said Johnson on Sunday. “Obviously, it would be a great achievement and a great honor to be a part of that.  For me it’s more, you know, trying to win as many tournaments as I can.”

Of course golf is golf, and we may have just seen Johnson’s last win for all we know. But he’s likely the best positioned to win the most number of times over the next five or 10 years. How many of those are major championships will likely shape the way we think and talk about D.J. and his career, which might be unfair but is also a reality he’s aware of (and probably doesn’t care about).

In the world of golf there is a reverse inflation effect that probably makes 20 wins worth more in 2019 than it was worth in 1969. Regardless, Johnson would have reached that number in either era. The vision I kept coming back to as I watched McIlroy and Johnson come around the bend on Sunday in Mexico is Johnson as a tremendous machine. When the machine malfunctions it almost stops working altogether. But when it’s properly oiled, finely tuned and pumping the way it’s supposed to pump, mere mortals — even historically great ones like McIlroy — just don’t really have a chance.

Categories: National Sports

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