Tell me if this sounds familiar: Dustin Johnson is near the top of the leaderboard in the first round of a major championship. In fact, with the afternoon wave just starting to tee off, Johnson is the current leader after firing a solid six-under 66. Yep, but it’s only Thursday at the PGA Championship, held at Whistling Straits, where Johnson has a complicated history given the bunker-not-a-bunker fiasco when the PGA was last held here in 2010.
“Today I thought I did a great job of just staying patient, hitting the shots that the course allowed me to hit,” he said. “I struck the ball well today. So I was very pleased.”
Johnson’s lone bogey came on the par-3 3rd hole, but otherwise, he was flawless.
“The hardest shot I had was the second shot on 3,” said DJ. “I hit it just left of the green and it kind of rolled up against the grass on the downslope. I hit a pretty good bunker shot from there, but it just flew up and it kind of hit in that first cut and stopped. I made a nice 4 there.”
As good as he played, he could have even gone lower — he lipped out a 13-footer on no. 7 and a 12-footer on no. 8 for birdies. He capped off the day by making an eight-footer on no. 9, his final hole of the day.
“My first putt I hit it a little too hard,” he said in his post-round presser. “Fortunately, I made a nice comeback for par to end the day with a good, positive vibe.”
As DJ does, he doesn’t throttle back from hitting driver — perhaps even at times where he should keep it in the bag. But, when he’s feeling good with the big stick, he’s practically unstoppable, not to mention he gains a massive advantage given his tremendous length. Prior to teeing off his first hole, his swing coach Butch Harmon suggested he hit an iron off no. 10, but Johnson told him that wasn’t happening and he was going to blast driver. He ended up hitting a 3-wood just short of the green and holed his birdie putt.
“There’s some holes you can hit driver and be aggressive, some holes you have to hit 3-wood or 3-iron off the tee, but I hit a lot of drivers today and drove it quite nicely,” said Johnson.
Johnson has kicked off his campaigns to capture that elusive first major championship in style this season. His *worst* start so far was at the Masters, where he was T12th following the first round. However, at the U.S. Open, he was second and at the Open Championship, he was the first-round leader.
What’s been the secret to his success?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think I’m just playing a little better this year. Your guess is as good as mine.”
Yep, deep thoughts, per usual.
The problem for DJ has been sealing the deal and keeping the momentum going through Sunday. Which he utterly failed to do at least at the Open when he held the 36-hole lead and then fell off the face of the leaderboard over the final two rounds. In his last six majors, here’s the breakdown of his scores for each day: 1st round: -22; second round: -15; third round : +3; final round: +3. (However, to be fair, as he pointed out in his post-round presser, he played well over the weekend at the Masters and the U.S. Open).
“I played pretty well at the U.S. Open on the weekend,” said Johnson when it was pointed out to him that he hadn’t done as well in the final two rounds. “I played pretty well at the Masters on the weekend. At the British Open, I didn’t play well on the weekend, but even the first two days I know I was leading after two rounds, but I didn’t feel like I was playing that good of golf. I wasn’t too comfortable with my swing. I wasn’t hitting the shots I wanted to hit. I didn’t feel like I was too much in control.
“Right now, today, I really felt like I had my ball under control a lot like I did at the U.S. Open. So I feel a lot more comfortable right now. We’ll just have to see what happens. It’s only the first round, we’ve still got a lot of golf to play.”
Johnson made things look easy on Thursday morning — as he usually does when he’s on. If he can manage to stay that way, you’ll be sure to see him around the top of the leaderboard come Sunday. If and when that happens, DJ would prefer to have the lead, rather than chase it.
“Whether you’re one ahead or one back, I don’t think that really matters,” he said. “If you’re talking like a five- or six-shot lead, I want the lead, for sure. All I’m looking for is a chance to get it done on the back nine Sunday.”
It’s unclear what’s holding DJ back from major success. Perhaps it’s his lack of having a real game plan or maybe it would help if he had a professional caddie on his bag instead of his younger brother. Even though it’s hard to say how much scar tissue he’s built up through all the major disappointments, he’s certainly shown resilience and insisted that he doesn’t dwell on the letdowns. What’s more, he possesses an unbelievable amount of talent. It’s absolutely mind-boggling that he’s 30 and has yet to snag his first major. But as he continues to stress, he’s learning from those unfortunate situations and close close and his time will come — and with his prodigious talent, it would be nearly impossible to fathom a scenario where he never claims at least a major or five.
Maybe this will be the week he gets that major monkey off his back. Good news is he won’t have to worry about grounding his club in one of those sandy areas to the right of the 18th fairway as he makes his way up the 72nd hole.