Ever the optimist, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson knows his U.S. Open fate will depend on the driver

·3 min read

Dustin Johnson’s recent track record doesn’t bode well heading into Thursday’s start of the U.S. Open on the South Course at Torrey Pines in San Diego.

He’s the first world No. 1 to miss back-to-back cuts in major championships since Greg Norman in 1997, as Johnson missed weekend play in the Masters as the defending champion (74-75) and in the PGA Championship (76-74).

And last week’s tie for 10th in the Palmetto Championship at Congaree was just his second top 10 this year on the PGA Tour and his first since February.

It certainly hasn’t been the encore some expected after he won four times and finished runner-up four times in 2020, which included his record-smashing victory in the Masters and the FedEx Cup title.

Johnson has said the putter has been the main culprit but other things have popped up that have kept his game from peak form.

Last week was a Cliff’s Notes of his 2021. He opened with a 65 and was tied for the lead going to the final hole in the second round before his club slipped in his hand, his tee shot winding up in a bush and leading to a double bogey.

“That’s a first for me. I obviously was not expecting that,” he said.

In the third round, he tied for the lead with a birdie on the second but then had an up-and-down round and fell back until play was halted because of storms – with Johnson on the tee of the 18th hole. Returning Sunday morning to complete the round, he made bogey from the middle of the fairway and dropped six shots back.

Then, in the final round, he got within one of the lead on the back nine before a poor drive led to a triple-bogey 7 on the 16th.

But Johnson remains ever optimistic.

“It’s good,” he said about his game on the eve of the championship. “I played last week and had a few weeks off. I felt like last week went pretty well. Then obviously I’ve seen a lot of good things this week. I feel like the game’s starting to come back into good form. I’m looking forward to it.”

The thing is, though, Johnson has been saying this for weeks now with few results to show for it. But with his firepower and resume – 24 PGA Tour titles, two majors – he knows his best form is within reach.

And why not at a U.S. Open, the toughest test in golf?

Johnson won the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, finished in a tie for second in 2016 at Chambers Bay, in third in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills, tied for fourth in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2, tied for sixth last year at Winged Foot and tied for eighth in 2010 at Pebble Beach. Simply, he knows how to play a U.S. Open.

“Obviously, this week’s a really tough challenge,” he said. “I feel like the golf course, it’s long, it’s hard, rough is deep. So it’s going to be all we want as golfers for sure. I think it fits (my game) well, especially this week driving. If I can drive it well, I feel like I’m going to have a really good week.

“Fairways are pretty narrow. The course is long, like I was saying, and if I can hit the driver good, yeah, I like my chances.”

Especially if he takes care of certain holes.

“Always at U.S. Opens, the holes you’ve got to take advantage of are the par-5s,” he said. “Obviously a lot of par-4s are quite long and difficult, like 12, 6, a few of those holes, 4. If you can make pars on those holes, you’re going to be doing well.”