Underachiever. That seems to be the label bestowed to American golfer Dustin Johnson, and no matter how much he wins, he can’t seem to shake it off. A recent victory in the FedEx Cup at East Lake, Atlanta was enough to send the World Number 1 straight into becoming the outright favourite in the latest US Open golf odds.
The tournament, which was originally set to take place between June 18-21, has been rescheduled for later this month, and while it will be played at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York without fans in attendance, it’s another great opportunity for DJ to put that label to bed.
A nearly man – Johnson could well have had his career Grand Slam by now – but alas, his only major title is the 2006 US Open. T2 finishes in each of golf’s other three majors: The Masters (2019), PGA Championship (2019/2020) and The Open (2011) has ensured that sadly, his defeats are remembered just as vividly as his victories.
Quickly forgotten are the fact he has 26 PGA Tour victories, and the remarkable achievement that he has spent 94 weeks as the World’s Number 1 – a position he has has held on six occasions, as recently as last month overtaking Spaniard Jon Rahm to the top spot.
But that most recent win in the FedEx Cup should give DJ the confidence to shine at Winged Foot. He was up against two tough opponents in Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele, who had both got off to better starts – but Johnson was able to stave their advances and match them. He responded to the pressure and went on to record a three-shot victory over his two rivals, who finished T2. That should give him a boost. And he’s in incredible form at the minute – that recent win added to his previous three finishes of second, first, second.
In the past, his competitiveness has been questioned, and of course, there’s been the controversies that have surrounded periods of his career and personal life. But watching him play at East Lake, he made it look easy – in the same way he usually does when winning. It was a maiden win in the tournament for Johnson and that could have well been another step to getting the demons – and critics – off his back. But there was something about his performance, he was determined and assured, he remained focused to hold off the challenges of his opponents. He may have made it look easy, but it wasn’t.
And it’s this dogged determination that will stand DJ in good stead going into next week’s US Open. He’s the World Number 1 for a reason, and while there’s pressure on the American to add to his major titles, he’s ticking all the right boxes in terms of his gameplay.
It may have been four years since he won the US Open – his only major title – but Johnson fares well on the tough courses. Winged Foot is up there are one of the more difficult – and will be a lot tougher this year without the crowd willing him on. As we saw at Harding Park in the PGA, the course is a lonely place. Bryson DeChambeau described it as a “downer” and Rory McIlroy said he was finding it hard to get pumped up. As DJ said following his most recent victory: “This is a tough golf course. No lead is safe,” and “The guys gave me a good fight today.”
He’s not far off from the form of his life, and will need to channel that energy and new-found confidence into playing the tournament of his career next week. There’s no doubt that he’s the man to beat.
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