Tour Confidential: Dustin Johnson Wins 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont
Every Sunday night, GOLF.com conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
1. Dustin Johnson won the U.S. Open to claim his first major title after several close calls. Is Johnson even more of a threat now that the major monkey is off his back?
Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): Absolutely. Monkey’s off his back. Freedom’s another word for nothing left to lose. Name your cliche, it applies here.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: And while you’re at it, let your freak flag fly! Anybody who can win at Oakmont can win anywhere, most especially Augusta National, which requires a similar set of skills.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I’m glad he finally got it done, but the next time he’s coming down the stretch with a lot on the line I won’t assume he’s now calamity-proof. No one is calamity-proof, and especially not D.J.
Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): We know DJ can win any major because he’s come close in all of them. This was the final hurdle. He spoke afterward about how he feels lighter -- no doubt he’s thrilled that he’ll no longer have to answer questions about his previous major crackups. With this win, he’s joined golf’s upper crust. He can win anywhere, and more titles are surely coming.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): Not so fast, Jeff. Every time someone breaks through, we immediately start speculating on how many more he can win. DJ has won one major, and while he’s certainly among the game’s elite, there are no guarantees here. But Johnson certainly has the talent, and winning the way he did will most certainly give him a ton of confidence.
Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): He’s been one of the best players in the world for at least six years -- many titles, many close calls in majors, ridiculous skills, questionable life decisions -- and there’s no question he can crash the Big Three party now that he’s closed the door on this chapter.
2. During the fourth round, Johnson told a rules official that his ball moved as he addressed a putt on the 5th green. No penalty was assessed, because Johnson said that he had not caused the ball to move. But a few holes later officials alerted Johnson and the rest of the field that they were reevaluating the situation and that Johnson could be assessed a penalty at the conclusion of the round. The news dominated the telecast, and PGA Tour players were outraged on social media. Johnson was indeed penalized after the round, but had enough of a cushion to win. What's your assessment of how the USGA handled the situation?
Sens: DJ made it moot, luckily, sparing the USGA some truly harsh questioning. But it was still flat-out bad, and it called into uncomfortable relief golf’s arcane and archaic ways. If there’s a question about a ruling, clarify the decision quickly. Go to the replay booth and make the call. Once there was uncertainty, the USGA had no option but to alert DJ. But why, in this age of high-def cameras and instant replays from every angle, should there be any uncertainty.? There’s no excuse for it.
Ritter: Right, Josh. They should’ve approached DJ with the final ruling, not simply to inform him of a “possible” ruling. The USGA then compounded the mistake by alerting the rest of the field to this potential scoring change. How did that affect everyone else? Surely it had an impact. And then the USGA also botched the ruling itself -- I don’t think DJ moved the ball. Despite all this, the right man won the tournament, and congrats to Johnson for playing his best golf despite the unnecessary distractions.
Bamberger: I don’t know, Jeff. They might have needed to hear more from Johnson. To steal an idea Alan Shipnuck just mentioned to me, why not have an iPad right there on the sixth tee and figure it out. When you cut through all the rhetoric, the USGA, obligated to get it right not matter how long it takes, did question the winner’s integrity. Awkward.
Morfit: The whole thing made golf and the USGA look bad, and took attention away from Johnson’s spectacular play. Somehow they’ve got to figure out a different way to handle these things. As more than one player pointed out, when you have greens that are that fast, simple gravity can make a ball move.
Passov: As if folks needed one more reason to turn away from golf. This stuff shouldn’t be that hard. You have to have certainty to protect the field, so make a call. The iPad, or going to a rules crew like they do in football or baseball is much better than what we saw here today.
Godich: Horrible handling of the situation by the USGA, made all the worse by its post-round announcement that it was assessing a penalty. That told me the decision had undoubtedly been made, and the USGA was simply going to allow Johnson to state his case, no matter how fruitless. Thank goodness Johnson bailed out the officials, with a little help from Shane Lowry.
3. Rory McIlroy missed the cut at Oakmont despite soft conditions and a seemingly rejuvenated game, while Jordan Spieth made the cut but was never a factor on the weekend. Whose performance was more disappointing?
Sens: Well, Spieth played the weekend and Rory didn’t, so there’s your answer. On top of that, though, Rory’s play appeared to be rounding into form coming into the weekend, making his missed cut all the more of a downer.
Bamberger: They will both get over it. Not worried at all for either.
Ritter: Rory’s MC was a shocker. He usually thrives on softer tracks, and he just seemed lost all week. Spieth didn’t play a bad round until Sunday when he was out of it, which is understandable.
Morfit: I agree, Jeff. McIlroy’s poor play, especially his nutty great/terrible second round, made the least amount of sense in a week that often made no sense at all.
Passov: This is the area where I bring up Tiger and Jack Nicklaus. Neither of those guys ever seemed to be missing in majors. I think Rory has the bigger consistency issues this year, and my only worry with him pre-tournament was could he handle the speed of Oakmont’s greens, given his putting grip issues this year. Apparently, he didn’t handle anything all that well. He disappointed more than Spieth.
Godich: Rory, by a landslide. How many times is he going to shoot himself out of a tournament after 18 holes? The second-round comeback was admirable, but even that fizzled.
4. Much of the talk entering the week was of Oakmont’s difficulty -- its deep bunkers, thick rough and lightning-fast greens -- and how players would struggle to break par. In the end, four players finished under par and a few players made runs, albeit unsuccessfully, at Johnny Miller's fabled 63. Did Oakmont live up to its fearsome billing?
Sens: Oakmont played plenty tough alright, though maybe not as tough as we in the media made it out to be in the run-up to the event. To hear the press tell it (myself included, in a number of potential Pulitzer winning pieces about how hard Oakmont is), Oakmont was a hellish place, and playing it was going to be like skinny dipping in the River Styx. As it happened, it played very tough but by all appearances very fair, with a welcome mix of vulnerable and daunting holes. The rains helped, of course. Without that softening agent, we might have heard more complaints, both from the players and the press.
Bamberger: It did. It’s a spectacular course. Even the USGA, with all that Fox money, cannot control the weather. But they can control rough heights and the rough was more playable than I thought it would be, even with all the rain. The greens were gorgeous. I have no desire to play the course ever again. But I’m glad the U.S Open is returning to it in nine short years.
Morfit: It was hard. It was fearsome. Players had a terrible time trying to tame it, except for D.J. and maybe a few others. Good for Oakmont. It’s a pretty place, and an interesting course. I wouldn’t want to play it.
Passov: Oakmont did just fine. After its brutally hard but fair turn in 2007, when 5-over-par was the winning score, I guess we expected the beast to re-emerge. However, let’s not forget that under-par scores won at Oakmont in 1962, 1973, 1983 and 1994 (albeit at par-71), so it’s not quite the monster for the pros that we make it out to be. Oakmont remains a special, superb tournament golf course, and even playing a little soft, it proved itself again.
Ritter: Exactly. Even at something less than full throttle, Oakmont was brutal and absolutely identified the best player in the field. What more can we ask for?
Godich: Well, you answered your own question by noting that only four players broke par. It’s no secret that the weather played a factor, and even then, I saw a lot of world-class golfers playing defensively. Oakmont held up.
5. Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood were in the thick of things after 54 holes but once again faded from contention on a Sunday at a major championship. Did you see anything from either of these veterans this week that suggested that one or both of them might finally break through and win a major title?
Sens: Alas, no. That was pretty painful, Westwood’s implosion especially. But we’ve come to expect it. And unfortunately one gets the sense that the players themselves do as well. To them, it must feel like Groundhog Day meets Apocalypse Now ... endless repetition of a grim experience.
Bamberger: No. Too much water under the bridge. You could see either of them leading through 63 holes even, but it is so hard to imagine them hoisting hardware.
Morfit: I could see Sergio winning a major before Westwood. Garcia may just sneak through at a British Open one of these days. He’s having a good year, and he’s far from being over the hill.
Ritter: Agree that Sergio could potentially snag a British -- but it ain’t happening as a front-runner.
Passov: When I saw Sergio get the breaks he did, driving just barely into a ditch after he had helped rescue a bird, then missing yet another series of shortish putts, as he usually does in these things, then buried his ball (literally) at 15, it just reminded me why he comes so close, but never finishes the job. Nearly every week, he shows me he’s capable of breaking through, talent-wise, but there’s something missing. Westwood did well to get this far this week. Sunday’s meltdown wasn’t too surprising.
Godich: Can’t say I’m surprised, but it’s painful to watch. Those ships sailed long ago. What’s amazing to me is the way those two have performed in the Ryder Cup pressure-cooker time and again.
6. Two down, two to go. What's the biggest takeaway at the halfway point of the 2016 major season?
Bamberger: For the best players in the world, and especially when they are trying to close deals on Sunday afternoons, golf’s hard and getting harder.
Sens: With DJ’s win, dare we start blathering once more about the Big Four, with a fresh replacement for Rickie Fowler? And there’s the depth beyond them. As Nicklaus said during today’s telecast, it’s never been harder to win.
Morfit: My impression of elite-level golf right now is that it’s never been quite this elite. D.J. Willett. Day. Spieth. McIlroy. It’s an amazingly talented group.
Ritter: We thought golf’s future was set with it’s three young megastars, but it turns out plenty of space for more great players. Big Four, Five, 10 or whatever you want to call it, DJ suddenly looks like a probable Hall of Famer. Willet seems like the real deal. Adam Scott has two titles in ‘16. Bubba is back. DeChambeau looks worthy of the hype. It’s been a fun season. Who’s next?
Passov: I’m with Josh on this one. I think this could catapult DJ into a Big Four scenario, and it leaves me wondering what’s happened to Rickie Fowler, especially in majors. And credit the game’s best player, Jason Day, for making it interesting for 70 holes, despite a dismal first-round 76. Makes me really look forward to the year’s next two majors. And yes, even to the Olympics.
Godich: Remember when so many were wondering how in the world the game could survive without Tiger?