#AskAlan mailbag: Does Dustin Johnson’s fall Masters win deserve an asterisk?

Dustin Johnson's second major came without many fans at Augusta National. Does that change how we think of it?

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In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck answers your questions about Dustin Johnson’s Masters win, the 2021 Masters, and which star will claim a major next.

Which of the bookend, diametrically opposed shots on 18 was more quintessential DJ: The extra-gear bombed driver dead-center past the bunkers, or the tap-in par putt while Sungjae was still away? #AskAlan – @blytham

Both. I also detected a little extra in that swing off 18 tee. But the premature tap-in was definitely vintage DJ — he’s certainly not one to stand on ceremony. For him, the meaning comes in the accomplishment, not the celebration. (Notwithstanding his current Bacchanalia in the Caribbean.)

Will ANGC come back in April with a “massacre” U.S. Open style setup just to prove a point? – @MaintenanceBarn

That’s not their style, but I can see further tweaks to course, including more strategically planted trees (for this Masters we saw a few more pinching the right side of 13 fairway) and maybe a few tee boxes pushed a few yards here and there to sharpen angles and ask more questions. So much depends on the weather — a firm, fast, fiery Augusta National is still a great test and much more interesting than what we just saw, but even the lords of Augusta can’t stop the rain from falling.

At one point on Sunday Jim Nantz referred to “the lack of patrons, of fans….”.  Was that a slip of the tongue or a tiny little rebellion from Augusta orthodoxy? – @gkellynyc

Nantz is hardly one to rage against the machine, but he is human, so I’m guessing it was an innocent mistake.

Why must we insist on avoiding the word MUD? – @Frank_0019

Because otherwise we would have been denied the absolute joy of hearing Dottie Pepper discuss “organic matter” on the golf ball!

Why was Sunday’s pin on 16 not in its traditional spot? – @mikewalter9999

To which tradition are you referring? Because that’s where it was in 1975 when Jack Nicklaus made one of the most famous putts in Masters history. But that’s a dicey spot when the greens are firm so I guess the tournament committee decided to use the soft conditions to do something different. If it had been back left that green would have taken a beating because most every ball rolls down the hill and all the players would have been putting and walking on pretty much the same line.

Do you believe this was a historic Masters or a historic* Masters? Not to belittle the win, just genuinely curious what an insider’s take is. – @Dave_Fore

Dustin Johnson did the green jackets a huge favor but winning this Masters in resounding fashion. It stamps the undisputed world No. 1 as a player for the ages and elevates the importance of the event. Cam Smith and Abe Ancer and Sungjae Im are all very likable players with bright futures but if a dude with a relatively thin resume took this Masters it would have felt less momentous, especially given the very soft conditions and more stress-free conditions that came with no fans. So, all hail Dustin, because he rendered obsolete any talk of an asterisk.

Augusta National in the fall was a treat. Stephen Denton

#AskAlan Will a -20 winning score encourage the Augusta Championship committee to investigate the possibility of introducing a unique Masters standard golf ball in the near future? – @GOLFFOODADDICT

Nobody wants a Masters Ball, least of all the people who run the Masters. It’s the most important tournament of the year and you’re going to force all the players to upend their games/launch conditions? That would be like raising the rims to 11 feet just for the NBA Finals. And it would absolutely dominate the conversation during Masters week, which the green jackets would hate; they want the focus to be on history, tradition and continuity, not a half-baked experiment. 

#AskAlan Will DJ stay hot and do it again in April? – @TheTexasSteve

That’s entirely possible. The guy is in such a groove, and his low-stress approach to the game (and life) suggests nothing is going to change anytime soon. It would be satisfying to see DJ win again under different conditions. He doesn’t need to validate this green jacket but winning another one so soon would be a heckuva exclamation point.

Where does DJ rank now among his all-time peers with 2 majors and all his wins? If he gets a third major does he leap over Brooks who has four but not the long-term success of DJ? – @JakeLebahn

I’ll take the second question first: Oh, definitely. The more interesting question is how to assess their careers this minute. It’s not just that Dustin has three- and-a-half times as many Tour victories, it’s also the sheer quality of the wins: tons of WGCs and playoff events, two triumphs at Pebble, two at Kapalua and one at Riviera. In terms of money and weeks at No. 1 they’re not in the same universe. Obviously, Johnson is six years older than Koepka so it’s not an entirely fair comparison. But with the way Brooks’s body is breaking down, and his apathy toward non-majors, it seems highly unlikely he’ll come close to matching Dustin’s overall victory total or hegemony of the World Ranking. Four majors to two is nothing to sneeze at, but let’s just say there is not a widespread clamoring for more big events at either Bellerive or Erin Hills. Right now, at this very moment, I’d say their careers are a push. When all is said and done, I think Dustin will have the more impressive body of work.

As for contemporaries, Johnson’s career has to be judged superior to Jordan Spieth’s, with the caveat that the struggling Texan is still only 27 and has plenty of time find himself and win more big ones. The only player with whom Johnson suffers in comparison is Rory McIlroy, with his four majors and tremendous success around the world. But over the last four years DJ has massively closed the gap and there is no reason to think he’ll stop now.

One of the great Masters traditions is allowing the current champion to wear his jacket outside the club for one year. Dustin will only get five months. That doesn’t seem fair. Will the club consider going him until April 2022 to return it? #askalan – @kevin_demsky

Part of Johnson’s genius is not sweating the small stuff. I can assure you he doesn’t care about this and neither should we.

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Did you see the turf around the greens? I did. Comments? – @pga_guy

Yes. It looked like a golf course… on which golfers had been… playing golf. It was refreshing to see Augusta National as less than perfect. The airbrushed artificial reality in April has always been too much for me.

Most impressive: Bernie Langer under par at age 63….Tiger 5 birdies in 6 holes birdies after a 10…Im -15 in his first Masters? – @mrrealtordallas

All of the above! In their own way, each showed a ton of heart. And we needed each of those subplots because Johnson’s dominance otherwise sucked a lot of life out of the Sunday telecast.

#askalan. Without a doubt the best multimedia coverage of a sporting event ever. I was so lost in looking up coverage I forgot there were no patrons. – @dogrin

Feels like your hashtag should be #TellAlan but, yes, what a performance by the Masters tech team. I absolutely loved being able to see every shot from every player. I could go out and watch golf in person for hours then come back to the press room and see with my own eyes what I had missed, in rapid succession. The bar has been raised, massively.

Second cut stinks….get rid of it all together at ANGC and Masters is better for it.  I want that ball rolling rolling rolling when it drifts off line or off target. – @FurleySportsFan

I fully agree. My first handful of Masters was back in the ‘90s when the place was wall-to-wall carpet and it was thrilling to watch the ball roll forever. Now, errant shots that would’ve wound up in the trees or creeks or on the pine straw are stopped by an unnecessary bit of rough that would make Bobby Jones blanch. As I wrote last week, there was minimal penalty for finding the second cut. It’s more of a factor when the greens are firm but I still think the course would look and play better as it used to be.

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Who’s most likely to win a masters next: Brooks, JT, Rory or Rahm? – @bouncepasshoops

Brooks. The course seems to have already gotten in the heads of the other three.

What do you think the scene will be like come April? Patron capacity, par 3 contest, etc. – @JayRevell

According to one member, the thinking right now is to have 3,000 fans, tested every day for coronavirus before coming onto the grounds. Augusta National handled the media testing last week and it was a breeze: drive-thru in your car and results came back in 15-20 minutes, the data beamed magically to the computers that read our credential upon entry. The club certainly has the resources to pay for a few thousands more tests each day. Those folks would add a needed ambiance, especially on Sunday when folks cluster in obvious spots: 1 tee, 2 green, 7 green, 10 tee, Amen Corner, 15 green/16 tee, 18 green. And it’s enough fans to warrant bringing back the Par-3 tournament. So I think the next Masters will feel more like the Masters, even though this Masters was pretty darn cool.

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Alan Shipnuck


GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck writes longform features and a monthly column for GOLF Magazine and has his own vertical on GOLF.com entitled “The Knockdown,” which is home to podcasts, video vignettes, event coverage and his popular weekly mailbag AskAlan. He is the author of five books on golf, including na­tional best-sellers Bud, Sweat & Tees and The Swinger (with Michael Bamberger). Shipnuck is very active on Twitter, with a following of 50,000.