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In a lot of ways, Dustin Johnson is the same guy he was weeks before winning the U.S. Open.
Before that major breakthrough, Johnson was a guy who was playing the golf of his life, in part inspired by finding a groove in his personal life. He had found a partner in Paulina Gretzky. He had become a father to son Tatum. The off-course distractions were minimized.
The results had been pretty obvious. Before Oakmont, in the prior two seasons, Johnson had played in 34 PGA Tour events and finished in the top in 19 of them, including yet another win to extend his PGA Tour-best active streak of seasons with a victory.
However, the monkey on D.J.’s back remained nabbing that elusive major. He’d had a crack at practically all of them, and he’d gotten to the 72nd hole in his most recent major heartbreak. He had been so close to the finish, to grabbing that trophy. It was hard not to wonder if Johnson simply wasn’t equipped to wrap his arms around a major title.
And then he did it. He made mighty Oakmont look meager. His display on one of the world’s toughest golf courses made his peers look inadequate. The difference at the U.S. Open compared to other majors was that Johnson was in control of his game and the course from the outset.
Despite his closed position at the top of his swing, he’d found a way to comfortably and reliably hit a fade — just as long as his stock draw — that could find fairways.
“Well, I was just struggling with the draw to get it in the fairway, so I said, I’m going to hit a fade, and I started hitting a fade,” Johnson said plainly on Sunday.
He makes it sound so simple.
Johnson’s putting, which has always been a liability, has improved to the point that he’s a middle-of-the-pack guy with the flat stick. For a guy of his tee-to-green talent, mediocrity on the greens still yields a lot of birdies and some eagles. More importantly, Johnson is making the key putts to keep rounds going and bad numbers off the card.
“The last couple weeks, my putter, I’m making the putts that I’m supposed to make,” he said. “That’s the big difference in me finishing a lot of top 5s that I’ve had this year to winning a few.”
On Sunday, Johnson made it two in a row, winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club — with a U.S. Open-like setup — by a shot over Scott Piercy. Johnson played the weekend in an impressive 132, with consecutive 66s that gave him the tournament. Johnson didn’t see anything special or all that different from normal in what he did in Akron.
“It was solid,” Johnson said of his 8-under weekend. “It wasn’t like awesome, but it was pretty solid.”
Again, Johnson is the same guy he was before Oakmont, with the same expectations. He may have tweaked some things in his game this year, but his prodigious length is now paired with a more clear certainty that he can finish off the biggest tournaments.
King of the understatement, the laid-back Johnson, now No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, has a chance to make it two majors in a row at Royal Troon in two weeks. And he firmly seems to believe we haven’t yet seen him at his best.
“I’ve had a good couple weeks the last couple weeks. I’ve felt like the game is in pretty good shape,” he said. “It can definitely get better, though.”