The number 20 is magic on the PGA Tour when it comes to judging a career. Twenty victories provides a lifetime PGA Tour membership. And 20 victories, including one or more major championships, will warrant induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Davis Love III has 21 victories and is joined at that mark by Lanny Wadkins. Hale Irwin and Greg Norman each had 20, and all four are in the Hall of Fame.
As if there were any doubt, Dustin Johnson assuredly will join those players in the hall, now that he has his 20th victory, handily winning the WGC Mexico Championship on Sunday, by five shots over Rory McIlroy. Johnson has reached his milestone, which includes the 2016 U.S. Open, at age 34, and there’s no indication that he will stop at 20. In fact, 11 of those victories have come since 2016.
Twenty victories on Tour is more than Ernie Els (19), Ben Crenshaw (19), Tom Kite (19), Nick Price (18) and Curtis Strange (17) compiled. All five are in the Hall of Fame.
When young players on Tour start looking at a target at which to shoot in their careers, Johnson’s total will be the standard. Not Tiger Woods, who has 80 victories, nor Phil Mickelson, with 44. No one playing on today’s Tour will reach either of those milestones.
Whatever number at which Johnson finishes will be the measuring stick for a great career. Why? There’s not a Woods or a Mickelson – or even a Tom Watson (39 victories) or Vijay Singh (34) – among the game’s most talented young people.
There are quite a number of extremely good players in the current crop. But there are no great ones, at least not yet and not by using Woods or Mickelson as a measure of greatness. Winning five or six tournaments a year – which would be needed to catch Woods or Mickelson – is just not doable by today’s best players. Three or four victories in a year is remarkable, given the number of players who have a chance to win each week.
Among the young generation, McIlroy is the closest to Johnson, with 14 PGA Tour victories, including four majors. And he’s only 29. But if McIlroy doesn’t soon solve his problem of not putting up much of a fight in the final group on Sundays, he’ll never get to 20 wins.
Jordan Spieth looked early as if he might be the player to threaten at least Mickelson. In 2015, his third season on Tour, he won five times, including the Masters and U.S. Open. And at age 25, he has 11 victories. But he hasn’t won since the 2017 British Open and is struggling mightily and publicly through full swing and putting woes.
Spieth looks nothing like his 2015 version. No one believes he won’t be a great player again one day, but he’s nothing close at present.
Jason Day won five times in 2015, including the PGA Championship, and would have been player of the year any other year except for Spieth’s two majors that year. Day won three events in 2016, including the Players Championship. After two victories in 2018, he totals 12. But he’s 31, and it’s hard to tell if he still has enough fire to devote himself totally to the game and catch Johnson.
Adam Scott has 13 PGA Tour victories, but he’s 38 and won’t ever putt well enough to win that many more times. Bubba Watson has an underrated 12 titles, but he’s 40. Zach Johnson is a 12-time winner, but he’s 43. Justin Rose (38) and Sergio Garcia (39) have 10 Tour wins apiece.
If there is a player who has what it takes to get to Johnson’s total, it’s likely to be Justin Thomas. With nine victories at age 25 – five in 2017, including the PGA Championship – Thomas has the talent, the fire and the work ethic to be the best player of his generation. And he’s a really good putter.
Some might point to two weeks ago, when he went into the final round of the Genesis Open at Riviera with the lead and coughed it up with a Sunday 75 to finish second to J.B. Holmes. But that happens even to the great ones – well, maybe not Woods – and shouldn’t be a concern, at least not now.
The Florida Swing begins this week, and with the Players Championship and the Masters on the horizon, we’ll see if anyone starts to chase Johnson or whether he puts even more distance between himself and the pack.
It’s not apparent in the least that Johnson realizes what his place in the game is or will be. But it won’t be long before everyone else knows – if they don’t already.
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf