When world No. 1 Dustin Johnson really got rolling this summer past, en route to capturing an autumn Masters, his secret weapon was a man who got his sporting start working with, well, weapons.
An optometrist and sports-vision specialist, La Quinta, Calif.-based Dr. Craig Farnsworth met with the world’s top-ranked player in Florida back in June of 2020, a travel which represented the doctor’s lone air travel during the initial height of the global COVID pandemic.
The trip’s ensuing results soon saw Johnson – never reputed as a strong putter – roll his way to a subsequent win at the Travelers Championship.
The victory was soon followed by a crazy playoff run of T-2 at the PGA Championship, a win at the Northern Trust and a runner-up showing at the BMW before claiming victory at the Tour Championship to conclude his ’20 season … all of which, of course, preceded a wrap-around season tie for sixth at the September playing of the US Open, a second-place finish at the Vivint Houston Open and eventual culmination of the super streak with Johnson’s second-career major title at The Masters.
As DJ aims to capture a second Green Jacket in a five-month span, a prescription for success on one of the nation’s most demanding putting courses may again require the bedside manner of the man known as “The Putt Doctor.”
BEFORE HIS MODERN-DAY MONIKER and rep as one of the golf’s most effective instructors, Farnsworth’s beginnings in sports-vision were set on a different kind of range.
In the late 1970s, Farnsworth’s eyes were trained on the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where he started the first sports-vision laboratory and worked primarily with the shooting team. Based on the team’s success and subsequent referrals, he was hired to work with the Secret Service, training instructors on techniques such as visual response, accuracy, projection and hand-eye coordination.
In the Service’s victorious training competitions over Delta Force, Farnsworth was then hired by the latter to lend his vision expertise to the military elite.
“I worked on-site with the troops for five days in their training center, the Mecca,” recalls Farnsworth from his home club, The Palms GC in La Quinta, Calif., reputed for having the lowest cumulative handicap index in the country. “That training center, that place — it’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever been involved with.”
In time, come the late ’80s, golf instructors took note of the Dr.’s sports-vision prowess, in concert with a growing realization that vision was an integral part of the game.
“And, in the teachings of yesteryear, golf didn’t seemingly have an answer at that time,” continues Farnsworth. “So, being an optometrist and also a sports-vision expert, it became easy for me to find a niche.”
His corner market on sports-vision in golf was put to paper with the 1997 release of his instructional book, “Seek It and Sink It.”
“When I started going out on Tour, there was a hardly a pro who hadn’t read it,” Farnsworth says.
As his flatstick teaching evolved from studying the eyes to incorporating his further training in biomechanics and physiology, Farnsworth began implementing more mechanics in his tuteledge, with alignment study evolving to set-up and posture techniques. By the time he released his second short-game book in 2009, “The Putting Prescription,” Farnsworth’s client list had, or would soon include, the likes of Nick Faldo, Tom Kite, Steve Elkington, Annika Sorenstam, Bernhard Langer and Hideki Matsuyama.
THE TOUR ROAD, whatever one’s teaching focus, can prove a fickle trail, with the instructional game proving a swing-by-swing business and students often wont to change concepts or go back to old chestnuts, based on instant results (or lack thereof).
“Happens more times than I’d like, not sticking with it, going back to old habits,” says Farnsworth, who regularly works with a cache of top amateurs as well as touring professionals. “That’s kinda why I stopped going out on Tour – getting somebody to change on a Tuesday or Wednesday (of a tournament week), it’s tough.”
Donning a trademark floppy cap, his manner that of a comforting, grandfatherly physician, Farnsworth’s methods combine self-built tools with technology toys.
An initial assessment for all levels of player, including the world’s best, often reveals a similar trend.
“Set-up problems contribute to an inability to use the proper muscles to stroke the putt; so, that results in posture and efficiency problems,” explains The Putt Doctor. “Most of the time, the feedback we get is that improved posture – different hip bend, different eye position, different hand position — is immediately effective.”
On the green, his tech tools include: Blast Motion sensor analysis and feedback, and the “Flatstick” device from Evolution Putting, which measures, among other factors, stroke speed and acceleration. For more Old School study, Farnsworth further uses a Roll Board with felt (to study ball path and any bounce or bumble); his self-made Putting Horse (for shaft angle of putter head) and Aim Aid (sewing needles connected with strings and affixed beads to gauge length of back-and-forward stroke).
From a green-reading vantage, Farnsworth (puttdoctor.com) is also a Certified Level 3 AimPoint instructor, a technique which, he candors, finds varied level of player application.
“We have several players we work with who don’t use AimPoint to the level we’d like,” says Farnsworth, “but they have become aware that the middle of the putt and the reads are more important than the last few feet. The middle of the putt, that’s geometrically what kicks the putt. The putt breaks the most the last few feet, but what kicks it to break more or less is the middle section.”
For his work with Dustin Johnson – as with all clients, which includes desert-connected pros such as Russell Knox, Mike Weir and Kramer Hickok – the process began with a questionnaire; the paperwork includes a player “Self-rating” related to alignment, routine, concentration and stroke mechanics, along with a query of “What would critics or colleagues would say about your putting?”
Responses, per much of golf, tend to trend toward a focus on the pejorative.
“What we get out of the questionnaire is that people are usually hyper-critical about themselves. Too critical,” Farnsworth says. “And another thing we ask is, ‘What did you learn about your putting from your last round of golf?’ And the best answer I ever received was from Brad Faxon, who said, ‘Doc, I figured out that you can roll the ball well, put a great stroke on it – but all good putts don’t go in the hole.'”
Of course, following his work with DJ, the biscuit was really finding the basket.
“With Dustin’s game, he’s got an incredible ability to adapt,” Farnsworth continues, adding that caddie/brother Austin Johnson amply-aided with team green-reading. “With me, Dustin jumped in with both feet, and as he worked to adapt, it became a pretty regular part of his routine.”
Among his observations of the world’s best player, Farnsworth noted that DJ was right-side dominant with the putter.
“He knew he pulled putts. But he’d miss a putt way to the right on a 20-footer and, say, ‘See, I can push a putt, too,'” explains The Putt Doctor. “But, after analyzing that, I showed him that he actually pulled it 2 degrees.’ So, it was an aiming problem, too, and that’s when we started with the line on his ball.”
Echoing a growing sentiment about Johnson’s off-screen intellect, Farnsworth says that DJ’s smarts with numbers readily leant to grasp of computing analysis and dissecting why things happened in his stroke.
“He’s an extremely intelligent individual, and I certainly found out that he’s a math genius, a whiz,” adds Farnsworth. “You give him numbers – like, X-thousand dollars times X-years of investing – and he comes up with an answer like that. No calculator needed. He’s a sharp cookie.”
Never did a cookie taste so good as the one devoured during the pandemic play at Augusta National in November.
Details Farnsworth: “When his won The Masters, Dustin did four basics that we really worked on: He used the line on the ball; he worked with his posture, getting forearms parallel (mimics right arm affixed to side); he took some time to look at putts from the side for better perception; and, lastly, he and A.J. were a great team for green-reading.”
As Farnsworth readies to reconnect with Johnson and his team before The Masters’ returns to its traditional April date, The Putt Doctor says the real medicine for true success rolls not just with his teachings, but with partial prescription of the player’s own inherent talents.
“The Tour player has to own it,” Farnsworth concludes. “And the really great players – Faldo, Dustin – they add their only little genius to make your instruction better.”