Haskett: Is Dustin Johnson Really Number One?

Photo by Icon Sportswire

The final round of the Genesis Open was a walking coronation of Dustin Johnson becoming the 20th player to be ranked number one in the world. It allowed plenty of time to discuss his merit. Apparently CBS analyst, and former #1 Nick Faldo, had something to say about it, opening up the inevitable conversation on Twitter:

To be clear, the fun folks at No Laying Up asked the question with the tongue fully planted in cheek, but what about the merit of getting to number one? On PGA Tour Radio, veteran players Mark Carnevale and Dennis Paulson broke down the merit of being the best player in the world as a validation of a player’s work. It wasn’t a goal to be #1 they said, but rather a reward for achieving what every player ultimately seeks: consistency of greatness.

How does DJ stack up as one of the few to be the world’s best? Better than one might think:

10 for 10 – One of just four players to win at least one PGA Tour tournament in his first 10 seasons on Tour, Johnson shares that with Arnie, Jack and Tiger. Jordan Spieth can’t achieve that. Neither can Hideki Matsuyama or Justin Thomas. (Patrick Reed needs to win this year and for five more)
Immediate consistency has been incredible and overlooked a bit on Johnson’s resume.

#Winning – Johnson has 13 major tour wins, including a major championship. That is a better resume, at 32 years old, than Tom Lehman’s entire career, equivalent to David Duval and Fred Couples, on par with active players like Martin Kaymer, Adam Scott, Jason Day and better than Luke Donald. On paper alone, it’s not a fluky rise to the top.

The Rise – The crux of Faldo’s argumentative statement is that Johnson got to #1 by doing less than what Faldo did to achieve that ranking. Faldo first became the #1 player in world on September 2, 1990. He had won his fourth major that summer at Saint Andrews. It was his 21st European Tour win. It was beyond a Hall of Fame resume. It was also an outlier in terms of rising to #1.
Bernard Langer debuted as the first #1 golfer. When he did, he had 14 European Tour wins and one major to his name. Sound familiar? He would go on to win 29 more times in Europe and America, including another major. Being number one isn’t a career achievement award. For most who achieve it, reaching the top is simply a part of a career.

Because the ranking measures success within a finite window of time (two years), it is a snapshot of greatness. Despite what Faldo may claim, there is no prerequisite to being labeled the best golfer in the world. Here is a list of the 20 men who have reached #1, chronologically, with their winning resume at the time they achieved the #1 ranking. [For simplicity, only PGA Tour and European Tour wins were used]

Bernard Langer – 14 wins, one major
Seve Ballesteros – 30 wins, four majors
Greg Norman – 15 wins, one major
Nick Faldo – 22 wins, four majors
Ian Woosnam – 19 wins, one major
Fred Couples – Eight wins
Nick Price – 16 wins, three majors
Tom Lehman – Four wins, one major
Tiger Woods – Five wins, one major
Ernie Els – Eight wins, two majors
David Duval – 10 wins
Vijay Singh – 30 wins, three majors
Lee Westwood – 22 wins
Martin Kaymer – Nine wins, one major
Luke Donald – Eight wins
Rory McIlroy – Five wins, one major
Adam Scott – 16 wins, one major
Jordan Spieth – Five wins, two majors
Jason Day – Six wins, one major
Dustin Johnson – 13 wins, one major

From that list, one can argue that only four golfers (Seve, Faldo, Price and Vijay) had achieved more in their careers at that point than Johnson has right now. The rest of the list is a mix of players at their peak, rising young stars or benefactors of generous mathematical circumstances. Johnson isn’t in that latter category. He has snatched the top spot by being the most dominant and consistent player of the past 10 months. Could he go on to equal the accomplishments of Greg Norman or Ernie Els? If he does, how much does it change his public perception?

In short, Dustin Johnson has certainly earned the title as “World Number One.” All that is left is to see what he does next.

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