Power v. Touch: An Age Old Quandary in Dustin Johnson-Paul Goydos Pairing

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2010

PEBBLE BEACH, CA - FEBRUARY 14:  Paul Goydos hits out of the bunker on the sixth hole during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links on February 14, 2010 in Pebble Beach, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Dustin Johnson prevailed over Paul Goydos and JB Holmes Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach National, capturing his third career PGA Tour victory.

But before Johnson had teed it up, or the slick Poa annua greens had been trimmed, or the morning dew blanketed the rye fairway grass, Sunday’s final pairing had stirred up the suspense of an age-old golf quandary: What kind of golfer has the upper-hand—a long ball hitter or a short game extraordinaire?

On Saturday at Spyglass, Paul Goydos was all business. Firing at pins and reading green undulation from any and every angle, Goydos secured an impressive, bogey-free round of 8-under par 64.

However, Goydos was not the only pro making noise Saturday under the golden rays of sunlight in Monterey Bay, CA. Dustin Johnson, one of the PGA Tour’s renown long-ball hitters, polished off his second round of 64 in the week, prompting an unusual and distinctive final pairing.

Sunday had the potential to be an incredibly intriguing final round as Johnson, a goliath who pummels the golf ball, competed against Goydos, the crafty, unpredictable underdog.

Strangely, golf analysts and commentators had been quick to assume that Johnson had the upper hand on Goydos. With only two wins on the PGA Tour, one 11 years apart from the other, Goydos’ Achilles heel throughout his career has been managing consistency.

When Goydos has found his groove in PGA events, he has a history of, well, choking. His reign atop the leaderboard usually lasts until that dreadful day—Sunday, a day associated with panic for Goydos.

But, for anyone who knows what it’s like to be the underdog, we were rooting for him, even if his opponent boasted bizarrely enormous length of the tee.

With Goydos and Johnson highlighting this event, viewers were given a special glimpse into the dynamic between a golfer with explosive power and a golfer with unsuspecting touch.

The palpable disparity between the talents of Goydos and Johnson are emblematic of the golfing public, who have fallen into the tendency of labeling themselves a "power-hitter" or more of a "touch player."

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While the goal in golf may be to master every aspect of the game, from long irons to short game to shaping shots, realistically, golfers excel at only one or two facets of the game and consequently will qualify themselves in that way.

Playing in junior events at a local and national level, I came into contact with golfers whose talents spanned across the spectrum; I saw guys who drove the ball over 300 yards, consistently hit every fairway and green, but who could not buy a putt, producing scores like 77 or 78.

Similarly, I encountered short hitters who lost their drives right, chipped back into the fairway, missed the green, chipped on, only to drain every putt they stood in front of, carding the same scores as the long-ball hitters.

Though the PGA Tour generates this idyllic image that every professional has found the middle ground of that spectrum, that’s much more fantasy than reality.

Why has Sergio Garcia never won a major? His short game is dreadful in pressure situations.

Why has J.B. Holmes never been a constant threat on the PGA Tour? His power off the tee is the only consistency he has mastered.

Why has Luke Donald never played up to his potential? In 2009, Luke was 82nd or higher in every statistic, except for one where he was ranked No.1—sand saves. Big whoop.

Golfers on the PGA Tour are struggling at the same things we, the duffers and shankers, are struggling with: All-around consistency. They too have endured the dreaded three-putt from inside 10-feet, finding your ball in a fried egg in the bunker, and even driving their ball out of bounds after coming off a birdie.

Sunday had the potential to reveal the ultimate showdown between Johnson’s driving force and Goydos’ expertise around the greens, but the round ended up revealing where the PGA Tour professionals truly thrive: Recovery.

Though Goydos and Johnson were in the lead at 18-under par over the first three days, both finished over par in their final rounds. In their final 18 holes, Goydos had a quadruple bogey and Johnson multiple bogeys, and in the end it became a battle for who could recover best.

In golf, just as in life, people make mistakes and what counts is how you recover from them.