• Alistair Tait

The secret to golf

Wonder if Dustin Johnson seriously thought a Masters victory was on the cards six years ago when he had to take a leave of absence from the PGA for “personal problems.” It’s a credit to the world number one that he was able to put that spell behind him. He also merits respect for recognising natural talent alone wasn’t going to earn him a green jacket.

Hard graft is what enabled him to win the tournament he coveted most. As Paul McGinley once said:

“There is no secret to this game. It just comes down to hard work.”

Bernhard Langer has known that since he was a teenager fighting the yips. He probably still thinks another Masters win is on the cards. Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im definitely think there’s a chance of a green jacket. They, too, know the secret to golf. It’s in the dirt, as Ben Hogan always said.

The 84th Masters taught us that at the very least.

We’ll probably never know the real story behind Johnson’s leave of absence, or even if it was voluntary or PGA Tour induced. There’s always been a strong suggestion it was the latter. As The Telegraph’s chief sports writer Oliver Brown wrote, Johnson’s time away from the game was…

“…alleged to involve three failed drug tests, including two for cocaine. He denied it flatly, but admitted to drinking vodka to excess and was forced to address allegations of infidelity in his marriage to Paulina, daughter of ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzy.”

Brown isn’t tilling new soil here. There were plenty of stories circulating on the circuit about Johnson’s excesses. Including the one about two European Ryder Cup players advising him to take a holiday in Magaluf to, er, get away from it all! Another highlighted Johnson cancelling a pre-Open Championship trip to Ireland for some links golf experience because he preferred a weekend in London. I wonder if he did an open top bus tour of the capital or the Jack the Ripper walk?

Plenty of rumours circuit in the small world that is the professional golf circuit. Some of them are even true.

Whatever the story behind Johnson’s “leave of absence,” he has to be given great credit for the hard work he’s put in to come back from that period of his life. He’s not the first sportsperson to let instant riches and fame steer him down a path he never should have ventured down. He certainly won’t be the last.

Johnson praised other half Paulina, and the fact her dad just happened to be Wayne Gretzky, as one main reason he now possesses two major trophies.

“Having her dad as the greatest hockey player, she understands everything it takes to get where you want to be and the sacrifices,” Johnson said.

Butch Harmon alluded to Johnson’s work ethic many times during this Masters, especially the time he’s spent on his wedge game. Harmon should know. He, along with son Claude, has been coaching him for years.

Lack of work ethic isn’t something Langer suffers from. The German is further proof age is no barrier in this great game. The 63-year-old, the oldest man to make the Masters cut, probably still thinks he can win a third green jacket. He probably still works as hard on his game as he did when he was 16 years old.

Not many would have expected Im to contend for a Masters title on his debut. Yet the Korean looked like he was a Masters veteran, especially the way he chipped and putted his way around Augusta National. Im is known as a work alcoholic on the PGA Tour, the modern incarnation of Vijay Singh. He lives, breathes and sleeps golf. Singh’s work ethic took him to victory in the 2000 Masters, two PGA Championship victories and world number one.

While one swallow does not a summer make, no one would be surprised if Im were to one day join the major club.

Like Langer, Smith proved length isn’t everything in contending at Augusta. He ranks 153rd in driving distance on the PGA Tour with a 295.9-yard average. That might seem long enough, but it’s short by today’s standards when the tour average is 297.4. He’s a full 25.5 yards behind Johnson, who’s ranked sixth. Unsurprisingly, Bryson DeChambeau is first with a 337.8-yard average.

Those who know Smith say he’s another who’s maxed out his talent through sheer hard work.

It’s the secret ingredient. Put it his way, many of those aspiring tour pros who think they’re working hard have no idea.

#JustSaying: “If you can’t outplay them, out work them.” Ben Hogan

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