Dustin Johnson Wins His First Major at Oakmont
Oakmont, Pennsylvania – Okay, so finally the games’ most naturally talented athlete and ball-striker gets off the schneid and wins his first major at the 116th U.S Open at Oakmont. For Dustin Johnson it’s been six years of close calls, controversial rules infractions, poor decisions, errant shots and 3 putts under the pressure. From Whistling Straits at the 2010 PGA Championship, to last years putting folly on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay (and all of those instances in between), it appeared that this would be different. Finally, DJ could get through a major where he clearly is the best player that given week (apologies to 54 hole leader Shane Lowry, but Johnson looked like the one to beat even starting the final round 4 shots back) and finish it off . . . and thankfully that’s how this year’s version of the U.S Open ended. Oh but the gents in the blue blazers almost always find a way to muddle up the story.
On a Father’s Day that offered perfect conditions in Western, Pennsylvania it was an innocent little occurrence on the fifth green that sent the golf world into it’s own free fall of outrage. As if you haven’t seen or heard already – Johnson, after running his birdie putt 4 feet by the hole, took practice strokes next to the ball before attempting his par putt. As he was about to sole the putter he observed the ball move slightly. He immediately summoned the USGA rules official who ruled that Johnson had not caused the ball to move, no penalty – DJ made his par putt and moved on. Case closed . . . or not. Later the USGA looked at the video and deemed it was likely that Johnson caused the ball to move. Nearly and hour and a half later on the twelfth hole, they informed Johnson that it appeared he may have been the cause and is likely facing a 1 stroke penalty.
From that point on, Johnson played with the knowledge that his score might be -5 or it might be -4. How do you proceed with strategy for the remainder of the tournament. What sport has rules that aren’t decided on the field of play live? It was called a farce by those of us in the golf media and many tour players like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Rickie Fowler. Jack Nicklaus expressed the same sentiment as this debacle unfolded. Luckily Johnson blocked out the distraction and played flawless golf coming home, including a magnificent birdie at the last for a final round 69 and a 3 stroke victory over Jim Furyk (66), Scott Piercy (69) and Shane Lowry (76).
Although he vehemently denied causing the ball to move on the fifth green, the stroke penalty was accessed, which had Dustin Johnson officially at 69 for the round and a total score of 276 (-4). Afterward, DJ was relieved it was over: “I know this golf course, it’s very difficult to close. From 12 to 18, all I was trying to do was just one shot at a time and not to worry about what anybody else was doing. Just focus on what I was doing. I just kept telling myself, it’s just me and the golf course. You know, I’m just playing the golf course today.”
As one of the games’ governing bodies, let’s hope the USGA learned a little from this incident, and how to handle such matters going forward. Hail to Dustin Johnson for overcoming and averting what could have become a long lasting dark cloud on the sport.