For all the pre-championship hype over distance being such a ginormous advantage at the Old Course, turns out the Open was won with good old-fashioned grit. Many (including yours truly) predicted that Dustin Johnson would overpower the Old Course with his jaw-dropping drives, but it was another Johnson who ended up hoisting the Claret Jug — Zach, of course.
Zach Johnson, one of the shorter drivers of the ball, outlasted Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in a four-hole playoff. At least an hour before regulation play finished, Zach buried a 30-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole to get him back to 15-under and post a final-round, six-under 66.
Just as it was likely the putt of the tournament, Johnson’s caddie Damon Green reacted by producing the celebration of the week with the chicken dance.
“There was emotion there,” said Johnson, as he clutched onto the Claret Jug in his lap. “Clearly because it was the 72nd hole and I had a good round going; that was part of it. I missed one on 18 last week, which was frustrating because I hit a good putt, and you know, the emotion was there briefly because I knew mentally I had to get my emotions in check because I had to get ready for obviously what happened.
“I guess I could have won it in 72 holes and I could have lost in 72 holes. I’m just trying to stay in the moment, and at that point get to the range and just warm up and see where things go. I didn’t have any expectations. I did all I can do, and obviously fortunately it went my way.”
At least an hour passed by as Johnson watched from his phone in the practice areas. He saw Jordan Spieth threaten the lead after the 21-year-old American drained a 30-footer for birdie to keep the Grand Slam hopes alive. He also saw Spieth bogey the difficult par-4 17th, and then shut the dream of winning three majors in a row , after he missed his birdie run on the 18th.
Johnson watched Louis Oosthuizen, who captured the Open in 2010 when it was last played at St Andrews, make a gritty par on the Road Hole, followed by a six-footer for birdie on the home hole to match him and Leishman at 15-under.
There was more work to be done. Johnson came out firing in the playoff. Following a 15-footer holed by Oosthuizen on the par-4 1st, Zach matched it with a similar length putt. He made another one from the same range on the second hole.
The 17th, which naturally lends to drama, was playing tougher than your average par-4. Johnson briefly looked like he might slip on the runway home. He missed his second shot left and his pitch shot went over the green, just a yard or two short of the road, but he managed to get it up and down to save bogey.
Though he missed a makeable birdie putt on 18 and settled with par to finish the playoff at one-under, Oosthuizen had an eight-footer to extend the playoff. He missed. Johnson, who had been reciting scripture and mentally preparing to head back to the 18th tee, became your Champion Golfer of the Year and secured his second major title — yep, he won a Green Jacket at the 2007 Masters, and now, he’s added a Claret Jug at the Old Course to his collection, which consists of 12 total wins on the big boys tour. That’s a Hall-of-Fame worthy career right there.
“I would have said, whose am I trying on, and whose am I touching?” said Johnson when asked for his reaction if he was told he’d have a Green Jacket and Claret Jug 15 years ago. “It takes me back to when I turned professional. You could even go back further than that when I was playing as a youngster. These are the things you dream about. These are the things you’ve worked to get to.
“I’m humbled because there’s a lot of individuals that have put me in this position that trust in me, and I trust in them. I’m humbled by, I think, the talent that I’ve been given, and I’m humbled right now because of what’s in my lap and the names that are etched on this piece of metal that is very special. It’s the who’s who in the game. It’s the guys that paved the way. It’s the individuals that are historic in sports. I’ve said it in ’07. I’m humbled, I’m honoured, and it’s still beyond surreal.”
While this was one of the most thrilling finishes of the Open I’ve ever seen, Zach flew under-the-radar (you could get him at 100/1 odds last Wednesday right before the tournament kicked off as I did). He’s one of the most understated guys in the game, but he gets things done with determination and mental prowess, along with his fine wedge game and putting. He’s perfectly fine with that, by the way.
“I guess that radar is going bonkers right now,” he said. “You know, I don’t know. I don’t mind being in that position, you know. I don’t know, I did say that, and when my game is good, certainly I surface on the radar. I don’t know if it’s ever really beeping on me.”
Winning an Open is a crowning achievement at any venue, but it’s particularly special at St Andrews due to the game’s history and tradition. So it was only fitting that Johnson won it in the way that he did (in style and battling the elements) — even though he’ll tell you that while St Andrews isn’t his favorite venue, the Open is indeed his favorite major.
“It’s a dream realized,” he said. “I am a little bit in shock. I think at some point it’ll settle in as to what was done.”