Hoping Dustin Johnson’s Memory Is Shorter Than His Missed U.S. Open Putts


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Dustin Johnson on Monday at St. Andrews. He has not played competitively since the U.S. Open.

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Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Dustin Johnson’s first formal news conference since his rushed exit from the United States Open was set to begin, but there was a problem with the audio. Johnson sat at the dais Monday for a couple of awkward minutes staring blankly at the crowd, his smile dimming with each sweep of the clock’s second hand.

Once the problem was fixed, the British Open moderator turned to Johnson and thanked him for his patience. Johnson sighed audibly. His recent history in majors has been a crash course in forbearance: Including his tie for second last month at Chambers Bay, Johnson has four top-eight finishes in his last six major starts.

His most recent near-miss cut the deepest. It was so hard to bear, in fact, that he skipped the awards ceremony. Johnson, who finished one stroke behind Jordan Spieth, said he was not aware that his presence was required.

“But it was time to get out of there,” he said. “I had had enough. I was ready to go.”

Spieth’s bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam could have died in the cup along with Johnson’s 12-foot eagle putt on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay. But Johnson missed the putt to win the championship, and then the 4-foot comebacker that would have forced an 18-hole playoff with Spieth, effectively snatching history from sport’s recycling bin.

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Dustin Johnson missed a putt for eagle on the 18th hole at Chambers Bay that would have given him his first major title.

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Harry How/Getty Images

Asked what he thinks of Spieth’s chances of becoming the first male golfer in the modern era to win all four majors in the same year, Johnson smiled wanly and said, “Well, I’m playing in the next two, so we’ll have to see.”

Johnson is playing with Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan in the first two rounds this week at the Old Course at St. Andrews, and it is unclear if the Chambers Bay demon will return to turn the group into a foursome.

“I like playing with Jordan,” Johnson said, his face a blank slate. “No pressure, though.”

In 2010, the last time the British Open was held here, Johnson finished tied for 14th. He and Spieth now will bring different weapons to the battle. Spieth is lethal around the greens. Johnson is long off the tee. Lost in the detritus of Johnson’s costly three-putt were the two beautiful shots he executed to set the stage for the drama-filled finish: Johnson had followed his booming tee shot on the par 5 with a 5-iron to the green, while Spieth and others had wielded woods.

“I thought I hit the shots that I was supposed to hit,” Johnson said. “You know, I did everything I was supposed to.”

So instead of looking at the trophy as half-lost, Johnson said he regards it as half-won.

“It wasn’t too difficult to get over it,” he said. “Obviously I was a little disappointed I didn’t get the job done, but you know, I was definitely happy with the way I played.”

Johnson, who turned 31 the day after the United States Open ended, celebrated his birthday in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He was accompanied by his brother and caddie, Austin; his fiancée, Paulina Gretzky; the couple’s infant son, Tatum; and Gretzky’s parents.

Though he has not played a competitive round since the U.S. Open, Johnson arrived in Europe a few days early and played two links courses in Ireland. His agent, David Winkle, said he did not expect Johnson’s finish at Chambers Bay to bleed into his start here.

Johnson is quick to move on from disappointments on the golf course, Winkle said. In a game in which even the best players experience far more failure than success, Johnson’s short memory is perhaps a bigger strength than his long drives.

“We forget too often about how big a part of this game heartache is,” the Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said last week in a teleconference. “Jack Nicklaus won 18 major championships, but he finished second 19 times in majors; every single one of those runner-ups would have stung. Arnold Palmer lost three U.S. Opens in playoffs; every one of those would have been devastating to him. It’s just part of the game.”

Mark O’Meara, whose two major victories included the 1998 British Open, suggested losses were not all bad.

“Sometimes it’s better maybe to kind of have a few setbacks,” O’Meara said, “and realize the heartaches of defeat, which in the long run makes you better coming down the stretch.”

One person’s stumbling block is another’s building block. Johnson described his brushes with victory in the majors as “very positive.”

He said: “It gives me the confidence to know I have what it takes to win. I think I showed that at the U.S. Open. Coming down the back nine, I was hitting the shots that I wanted to hit. Unfortunately the ball wasn’t bouncing in the hole.”

There was conviction in his voice when he added: “I’ve got what it takes, so I’m excited to get this week started.”



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