Dustin Johnson: The next Davis Love III?
PGA Tour

Dustin Johnson: The next Davis Love III?

COMMENTARY -- Dustin Johnson is enjoying Davis Love III's career.

Johnson won for the eighth time in his PGA Tour career on Sunday, taking the WGC-HSBC Champions in China for what the Coastal Carolina product deemed his biggest win. And it is. It's Johnson's first World Golf Championships event and, curiously, only his fifth PGA Tour win where the field completed all 72 holes.

Johnson has won at least once in each of his first seven seasons on the PGA Tour. There aren't too many people who can say that. In fact, on the PGA Tour, there is only one: Tiger Woods, who beat Davis Love III for his first PGA Tour win a playoff in Las Vegas in 1996.

DL3 won 20 times in his PGA Tour and, because of that record, earned lifetime membership on the circuit. However, the North Carolina native didn't win in each of his first seven seasons. In fact, he didn't win until his sophomore year in 1987, winning the first of five titles at Harbour Town. After a three-year drought, Love would win in eight of nine years from 1990-1998, taking 1994 off despite a solo-second in the Hawaiian Open (now the Sony Open in Hawaii).

Love has just one major to his credit, putting into the rainbow at Winged Foot to honor his father at the 1997 PGA Championship. He had his chances in other majors, however, most notably dropping shots down the stretch at Oakland Hills to allow Steve Jones to win the 1996 U.S. Open. He was T-4 the year before that at Shinnecock Hills, runner-up at the Masters twice (1995, '99). In the two most bizarre years in recent Open Championship memory, Love finished in the top five in 2003 and '04.

While it's too soon to tell if Johnson will win a major, and, if so, how many, Johnson's had his fair share of close calls in three of the four majors. There was Bunkergate at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. A year later, Johnson smashed a drive O.B. at Royal St. George's to cost himself a serious chance at the Claret Jug. Don't forget that final-round 82 in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where Johnson has taken over for Mark O'Meara as PGA Tour king.

Johnson might put it all together once and take a single major.

He could be like Padraig Harrington, briefly flourishing in a flurry of major triumphs, only then to fall back to mediocrity. Then again, it's safe to bet Johnson will never have the kind of golf neurosis that has plagued the Irishman.

Or he could be like Phil Mickelson, who finally figured it all out on the back nine at Augusta National in 2004. Nine years later, Mickelson now has five majors, including an improbable Open Championship, and is in the discussion of the 10 best golfers of all-time. Johnson trails Mickelson by 34 PGA Tour wins and five majors, but Lefty didn't post his first three-plus win year until his sixth season. Discovering dominance often takes time.

Love, who had the length and the swing, to dominate the PGA Tour only posted two seasons with more than two wins. One came 10 years ago, when, at 39, Love won four times in 2003, including The Players Championship.

It's almost as though having raw athletic gifts -- although Johnson's are clearly more significant -- can be a hindrance in a player's early development. For some reason, the confines of Harbour Town helped Love focus them to the tune of five wins. Johnson, in contrast, seems to favor wide-open spaces. There are enough of those tracks on the PGA Tour that it is somewhat shocking Johnson hasn't won more often.

Love turns 50 next April, but has the length and game to continue soldier on the PGA Tour. When Johnson hits the big 5-0 in another 20-and-a-half years in June 2034, that'll probably be the case for him, too.

That's where the comparison can stop. As a Twitter follower said to me, DL3 didn't marry Bobby Orr's daughter. Love is more reserved and mannered than Johnson seems to be. Johnson is a bro-kind-of guy who is really enjoying his life -- and he should be.

How Johnson will evolve as that 20s invincibility turns into a 30s humbling remains to be seen. It could mean changes in how he lives outside the ropes and performs inside them. It could change the trajectory of his career, making him no Love and more of a Harrington or a Mickelson. Or he could forge a unique path, especially for a guy with such a common last name.

About the author


Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for over a decade, working for NBC Sports, Golf Channel, Yahoo Sports and SB Nation. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He used to be a good golfer.

Ballengee can be reached by email at ryan[at]thegolfnewsnet.com

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