OAKMONT, Pa. — Are we finally over Dustin Johnson’s heartbreaking, soul-wrenching, eye-popping three-jack at the 2015 U.S. Open?
We just might be.
On the eve of the 116th U.S. Open, an uber-mellow Johnson faced the press — well, some press – in a largely empty interview room at Oakmont Country Club and fielded nary a single question about his depressing denouement on a dried-out green at Chambers Bay. You remember the scene: 12-foot eagle putt for the win. Missed. Four-foot comebacker for a playoff. Missed. More like, missed!!! Sympathy from J. Day. Shock and awe from the Gretzkies. Spieth Slam mania commences.
And Dustin? Oh, sure it must have stung. He’s said as much. But he’d been there before. On three previous occasions Johnson had detonated on the final day of a major: Pebble, 2010; Whistling Straits, 2010; Royal St. George’s, 2011. And did you know that at the moment Johnson stood over that bumpy four-footer at Chambers that he ranked 159th on Tour in putts within six feet? Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so stunned by the outcome.
And perhaps we should give D.J. more credit for how he’s handled his business in the year since. No woe-is-me, or bitterness, or dejection. At least not publicly. In his last 14 starts dating back to the WGC-HSBC in November, Johnson has notched seven top-five finishes. That’s a .500 batting average if you’re scoring at home. Six of those finishes have come in his last nine appearances, including a T-5 last week in Memphis that he punctuated with a 63.
Yes, that was TPC Southwind and this is big, bad, snaggle-toothed Oakmont, but Johnson likes how his swing and his stroke have been performing in big moments.
“My game has held up just fine the past few times I’ve been in those situations,” he said. “So that’s all I’m trying to do is just give myself a chance on the back nine on Sunday.”
So if you haven’t let Chambers go, it’s probably time. Johnson has moved on. That’s what he does. Along with obliterating golf balls, it may be his greatest talent. Toward the end of his session with reporters on Wednesday, Johnson was asked how he blocks out the noise surrounding his quest to win a major.
“I don’t really read the media,” he said. “That’s how I block it out.”
If Johnson does break through this week, it will be one of the game’s great redemption tales. Only one possible story line would trump it on the feel-good meter: a Phil Mickelson triumph, after six (six!) runner-up finishes. The Sunday 82 at Pebble, Bunker-gate at Whistling, the calamity on the Puget Sound, even the drug suspension — all of it would go poof with one glorious U.S. Open title. Maybe this is the week.
On Wednesday afternoon, Johnson was reminded that Phil Mickelson was 33 when he won his first major, at Augusta National. Johnson, let the record show, is 31.
”I still feel young,” he said. “I mean, the guys out here, they keep getting younger and younger, and I keep getting older. But I still feel young.”
Come Sunday he hopes he’ll feel something else: what it’s like to be a U.S. Open champion.