How Dustin Johnson’s ‘F1 practice routine’ can improve your distance control

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Keith Sbarbaro knows Dustin Johnson's gear and game as well as anyone on Tour.

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It doesn’t take Keith Sbarbaro, TaylorMade’s VP of Tour Operation, long to pick the area of Dustin Johnson’s game that impresses him the most. It’s his distance control. No, you read that right. It’s not the pinpoint drives — an area of his game that continues to give Johnson an edge over his peers.

By now you’ve probably heard the story of Johnson and his Trackman. For those who haven’t, the Masters champion made great strides at the start of the 2016 season when he started working on proximity to the hole from 150 yards and in.

Simply banging balls wasn’t working.

Since altering his practice routine and adding a launch monitor to his practice sessions, Johnson has ranked outside the top 20 in proximity to the hole just once since 2016. The results are a testament to the work Johnson’s put in to shore up a part of his game that, in his eyes, was holding him back.

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Which brings us to Johnson’s spin control.

“For high-level players listening, one reason Dustin is such a great iron and wedge player is because he controls his spin as well as anyone out there,” said Sbarbaro on a recent episode of GOLF’s Fully Equipped podcast. “The greatest iron player ever is probably Tiger Woods. Why was he the greatest ever? He controlled his spin better than anyone else. Spin control is distance control. Dustin has perfected that using TrackMan and other things. He knows exactly where he wants to be, and his calibration is tight.”

Sbarbaro likened Johnson’s practice sessions before a round to tuning in a Formula 1 car for a new circuit. Johnson practices with a purpose, utilizing a launch monitor and simple cleaning methods to ensure he knows where his spin rates are at prior to teeing off.

“When he warms up, he calibrates himself for the day to make sure he is where he is. When you watch him warm up, it’s a process. He hits a wedge, he wipes the wedge down. He hits another wedge, wipes the wedge down. It’s very calculated. It’s like tuning an F1 car. He gets it tuned up so when he gets up there, he’s in full control of his golf ball.”

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If you’ve never heard the term “spin rate” before, it’s typically defined as the rate at which the ball is spinning after impact. The club you’re using and where the ball impacts the face can ultimately determine if you’re generating too much, too little or an optimal spin rate. If your spin rate is optimized for your swing, there’s a higher likelihood you’ll be able to nail your distances, even if you don’t catch the center of the face.

Controlling your spin rate might sound like a daunting task. For most amateur golfers, simply keeping the ball on the map for an entire round is diffiult enough. But don’t simply shrug off the idea that you can’t practice like DJ.

With reliable $500 launch monitors on the market, it’s possible to establish carry and spin rate baselines for every club in the bag on your own. Another suggestion is seeking out a certified club-fitter, like True Spec Golf, to go through a full bag fitting on a launch monitor. (GOLF and True Spec are operated by the same parent company, 8AM Golf.)

And even if both those options are unattainable at the moment, any golfer can follow Johnson’s lead and clean off the face of their iron or wedge on a regular basis during a practice session. Keeping the grooves free of debris gives you a fighting chance to keep your spin rates tight and hit more greens.

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Jonathan Wall

Golf.com

Jonathan Wall is GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com’s Managing Editor for Equipment. Prior to joining the staff at the end of 2018, he spent 6 years covering equipment for the PGA Tour.