If you ever had any doubt that Dustin Johnson wouldn’t bounce back right away after his disappointing finish at the U.S. Open, then you obviously don’t follow golf very closely. He’s a different kind of beast, which is only to his benefit as a professional golfer. Johnson, who isn’t the most introspective person in the world, doesn’t have the DNA to hold onto scar tissue, nor does he really mull over letdowns.
Johnson proved that in the first round of the Open Championship and continued his strong play from Chambers Bay, bringing it to St Andrews and posting a seven-under 65 to take the clubhouse lead (which will probably still hold at the end of the day, with the afternoon wave battling tougher conditions).
As expected, Johnson overpowered the Old Course with his phenomenal length off the tee — averaging 322 yards on Thursday — and excellent ballstriking — finding 16 of 18 greens. He made five birdies and an eagle en route to his second straight 65 to kick off a major (he also posted the same score in the first round of the U.S. Open). Johnson is trying to become the first player to take the first-round lead/co-lead at both the U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same season since Gary Player in 1974.
“I just got off to a good start, played well on the front nine, and then coming on the way back in, it played pretty difficult,” said Johnson in his post-round press conference. “I thought the only time I was really out of position was on 16 and 17. I made probably a 10-footer on 16 for par, and then a 15-footer on 17 for par. But other than that, I had good looks at birdie all day.”
Indeed. Johnson actually two-putted for birdie at least twice on nos. 9 and 14. He took advantage of both par-5s. On no. 5, he only had 195 yards into the green, which only required a 7-iron that he knocked to 10 feet and holed for eagle. However, he missed his second eagle opportunity on the 14th, failing to roll in a six-footer and settling for birdie.
As he stated in his pre-tournament presser, it was easy for him not to dwell on the unfortunate and costly three-putt on the 72nd hole at the U.S. Open, because it simply was out of his control since the greens were so bumpy (which is perhaps a bit delusional — yet once again a good trait to have as a pro golfer).
“Nothing bad happened at Chambers Bay,” he said. “I wasn’t disappointed, really. I played really well, did everything I was supposed to do. I couldn’t control what the ball was doing on the greens there. There’s really no bad feelings from that, only good. I played really well and then it carried over to today.”
Asked again about the assumption that he doesn’t mull over disappointments, he blamed the poor conditions of the greens at Chambers again.
“There’s really nothing to be upset about,” said DJ. “I played well. I did everything I was supposed to do. I mean, I was even hitting good putts. There was nothing you could do on those greens there to make the ball go where you wanted it to. The ball went wherever the greens wanted it to, not where you wanted it to.
“I did everything well. I hit the ball well. I put myself in the right positions, just you can’t control what the ball is doing on those greens.”
Johnson admitted it was a “little disappointing” to miss out on an 18-hole Monday playoff against Jordan Spieth, whom he played alongside at St Andrews on Thursday.
“You can’t really change it, so there’s no reason to worry about it,” he said.
Wouldn’t that be grand if life were so simple? I guess it’s not a bad philosophy, but it’s easier said than done.
Johnson has essentially thrown away four majors in the last five years or at least failed to get the job done when he’s been in prime positions (the 2010 U.S. Open, 2010 PGA Championship, 2011 PGA Championship, 2015 U.S. Open).
He only lingered over those letdowns for a couple of days.
Johnson, who played in relatively calm conditions for most of the first round, will have the tougher side of the draw on Friday afternoon with strong winds, including gusts up to 35mph — if the forecast is correct. He knew it was important to get off to a strong start and he achieved just that.
“Golf is going to be interesting tomorrow, but I enjoy the challenge,” said DJ. “I like it. You’ve got to be very creative. You’ve got to use your imagination a lot when you’re out there when the wind is blowing that hard.”
It’s early in the championship, but perhaps we’ll get the DJ-Spieth showdown that we missed out on in a playoff at Chambers Bay come Sunday.