In 2016, Dustin Johnson picked up his first major victory at the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Since that breakthrough moment, DJ has gone on to win 8 more times on the PGA TOUR, including three WGC events, the 2018 Sentry Tournament of Champions, and the 2018 FedEx St. Jude Classic just a few weeks ago. Additionally, he has risen to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings for a total of 70 weeks.
But he hasn't accomplished all of this alone.
Standing by his side on every shot for over 5 years has been his brother, Austin Johnson. DJ and AJ have grown to become an inseparable duo on Tour, and their close relationship as brothers and friends has paid off huge for both of them. DJ and AJ each maintain a low-key, laid-back attitude that is often underrated in the world of golf. When other players/caddies may get frustrated, angry, or worse, the Johnson brothers always seem to keep their heads cool. This approach to the game can be even more crucial at The Open Championship where the course, the conditions, and the ever-changing weather all seem to converge to create one of golf's most daunting challenges.
Last year, we had a chat with Justin Rose's longtime caddie, Mark "Fooch" Fulcher, to hear how they were prepping for Royal Birkdale. This year, we caught up with Austin Johnson to discuss how he and DJ gear up for a major, if he has any "veto power" over club selection, and what equipment changes (GAPR??) may be in store for Dustin Johnson at the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie.
What do you think makes you and DJ such an effective team?
"Well, he's my brother, so we just know each other's personalities so well. And we have similar personalities to begin with. I feel like I can sense when he wants me to chime in and when he just wants me to leave him alone."
On that note, how much influence do you have on his club selection and what type of shot he's going to play?
"He'll ask me what I think on a given shot... but I can't change his mind. If he wants to hit it, he's going to hit it. I don't have that kind of power. I give my opinion, and he goes from there! But that's pretty much how it works with everybody. Very few caddies have veto power."
How do you know when it's the right time to step in and make a suggestion?
"It's all feel. If I feel like there's something he isn't factoring into the equation, I'll throw it out there. I don't step in that much, but if I feel there's something he isn't considering, I'll let it be known. Sometimes he listens, sometimes he says, "I don't care." He still hits it close, regardless."
When does your preparation for The Open formally begin as a caddie?
"I guess it begins right now—I'm packing my bags to fly to Scotland. We fly out later tonight. There's only so much you can do before you get there."
(Friday, July 13th)
Once you get there, what are the first things you'll do on your initial loop around Carnoustie?
"Usually, I'll walk the course to find the right lines off the tee. But I've played Carnoustie twice, so I know it pretty well. I'm going out with DJ right off the bat, so we'll just go out and tee it up off the first and go from there.
Later on, I'll go back out on my own to double-check everything. I'll look at the forecast for the wind to see what it will be like on each tee shot. I'll do all the typical things that 99% of guys out there are doing."
How important is it to have prior experience on links-style golf courses, especially for The Open Championship?
"It definitely helps. It can't hurt. Knowledge of the course is definitely an advantage. But you can have all the experience in the world—you still need to hit the ball where you want to."
What do you and DJ do to prep for windy conditions at The Open?
"Going through the practice rounds, we make notes about how far the ball is going if it's into the wind versus downwind. It's tough to get a real grasp on how the wind will play during the tournament as we play practice rounds, but we are mentally preparing more than anything."
As you and DJ develop your game plan, are you pitching it to him or talking through everything together?
"For The Open, we'll get there Saturday afternoon and tee off. We'll have the yardage book out, and we'll work together to come up with a plan to get the ball in the hole in as few shots as possible."
Do you anticipate any significant equipment adjustments for The Open?
"He's been going back to the TaylorMade blade putter. He still likes the Spider Tour putter, so it will ultimately come down to what he's rolling better on Wednesday evening. He's also not afraid to pull a change Thursday morning as well.
As far as driving irons, he's been messing around with the new GAPR club. He's going to test it at Carnoustie and could put it in play on Thursday. He definitely likes it, but he hits everything well. He'll test it on the course and see how it reacts."
At this point, do you have a sense of what your strategy will be at Carnoustie?
"It all depends on the weather. If it's nice weather, we will hit a lot of drivers and really attack the course. If it's the conditions we're used to seeing with crosswinds and cold temperatures, we will be hitting a lot of driving irons to keep it low and in the fairway. It's all weather dependent, but I hope we get to hit a lot of drivers!"
With a U.S. Open victory already under your belt, what would it mean to win The Open Championship?
"It would mean an awful lot. Any win means a lot, and major championships are what every player wants. To win an Open Championship at Carnoustie and pick up his second major would just take him to that next level in golf history. For me, I want to win every major... I liked winning at Oakmont. It was a lot of fun!"