Dustin Johnson has already underlined his position as golf’s world No 1 in 2018.
He began the year in impressive fashion with an eight-shot victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
The American tees up this coming week in the UAE, as he headlines a strong field at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA.
Last year, Johnson finished joint-second on debut. We caught up with the 2016 US Open champion ahead of his return.
Looking back at 2017, how would you rate it and what are your goals for 2018?
“Any year when you win four times including two World Golf Championships is a good year. Obviously I can’t help thinking it could have been even better if I hadn’t gotten injured right before the Masters. That was a huge disappointment, as I love the Masters and I was in great form going in. My goals for 2018 are for more of the same really, looking for wins and targeting the majors. My first goal is to try and finish one spot higher in Abu Dhabi than I did in 2017!”
This will be your second time at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. How did you enjoy the 2017 experience and the fact you came so close to winning?
“I loved the tournament in 2017. It was a great experience and that is why I am coming back. It has a world-class field on a fantastic course that suits my eye and I love the vibe of Abu Dhabi. There are so many great restaurants that I enjoy visiting with my team. And, of course, the weather is always perfect!”
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Abu Dhabi has put together another strong field for 2018, with Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar among those competing. How do you rate the field and how to do you rate your own chances of a first Abu Dhabi win?
“As I said, the field is world class and that’s a credit to the tournament that HSBC and the Abu Dhabi Sports Council put on. Everyone loves playing there and I came so close last year so I know the course suits me, although it is packed full of tough competitors.”
Staying on a similar topic, how do you rate the strength of the men's game right now overall? There are established stars like you and Rory, but also a lot of guys capable of winning, and also young players coming through.
“It is an exciting time for golf. There are so many unbelievable up and coming young talented golfers that are challenging week-in and week-out. Everyone will be looking forward to seeing Rory back in action and Justin Rose has obviously had an amazing end to 2017.”
You will come to Abu Dhabi as world No 1. You have been in the position for almost a year. Has the status changed your approach to the game at all and how proud are you of the achievement? What does being No 1 mean to you?
“It hasn’t changed my approach to how hard I work as I always try to keep improving. But I sure do feel proud when I am announced on the tee as the world No 1. I dreamed of being world No 1 as a junior so it is pretty great that I’ve achieved such a big goal.”
How big a relief was it to win the US Open in 2016 after going so close to winning that elusive major on a number of occasions beforehand? Did you ever doubt yourself or did the fact that you were consistently going close mean that you were always confident it was going to come?
“I think one of my biggest assets is that I am a patient guy and able to shake off disappointments and move on. I managed to take the positives from the near misses and always believed that if I kept putting myself in a good position, I would make it over the hump sooner or later.”
Golf is a developing sport in the Middle East and more and more local athletes are taking up the sport. How important is it for golf that the sport has expanded from Europe and the US and superstars like you and Rory are playing in the UAE and Asia?
“It is very important that golf keeps evolving and appealing to new audiences. The UAE has some great facilities, perfect weather and world-class golf events that should inspire the next generation. I really enjoy playing around the world and love the enthusiasm of the golf fans there, who don’t get to see as much professional golf as the fans do every week in the US.”
We are in Ryder Cup year. How was it being part of the 2016 winning team that sealed the title for first time in eight years? And how do you rate the US's chances of a first win on European soil in 25 years when the competition is held in September in France?
“It was one of the highlights of my career being part of the winning team in 2016. I think we are shaping up to have another great team, but we won’t underestimate Europe at home and there are obviously going to have some great new additions to the their team. One example is your defending champion Tommy Fleetwood, who finished one better than me at last year’s championship.”
What goals do you still have in golf? What motivates you on the course?
“The best thing about golf is that you can always find room to improve. I don’t struggle with motivation on course. I feel very lucky to be a professional golfer and I enjoy the competition and the lifestyle. I don’t set too many goals for my career, but every week I compete my goal is to try and take the trophy home with me.”