Tournaments

Dustin Johnson Overcomes USGA Controversy To Win U.S Open

Dustin Johnson captured his first major championship, the 2016 U.S. Open, at Oakmont. Credit: Getty
Dustin Johnson captured his first major championship, the 2016 U.S. Open, at Oakmont. Credit: Getty
No major can have a simple ending when Dustin Johnson is in contention. That has become the major championship rule.

As it turns out, it’s even the rule when he wins.

Johnson, the immensely talented golfer who cannot seem to avoid controversy, found himself as the central figure of yet another one, as the final round of the U.S. Open suddenly erupted into Schroedinger’s Tournament, with nobody knowing whether his round was alive or dead.

Standing over a putt on the 5th hole, Johnson’s ball moved very slightly to the right, a penalty if he were the one who caused the ball to move, but the cause was unknown, even after looking at the video. Johnson was later told by the USGA, mid-round, that the possible rules-violation would be reviewed after the completion of his round, a decision that enraged the golf world, with many of Johnson’s colleagues taking up for him on social media.

After his round, he was indeed, assessed a one-stroke penalty.

It ultimately did not matter. Johnson’s competitors were in an apparent fight to see who could nosedive furthest from contention, and that combined with his unflappable performance on the back nine, prevented a 19th hole disaster, and let the USGA off the hook.

In the end, it is a fitting ending for Johnson’s first major championship victory.

“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but it feels great.” said Johnson. “Obviously, I’ve been here a bunch of times and haven’t quite got it done, but today I did, and it feels really good.”

The storyline going into the U.S. Open was the brutal setup at Oakmont, a course that had a +5 winner in its last U.S. Open in 2007. Players found more success this time around, with the 32-year-old Johnson finishing -3, and three others finishing -1. The major storyline instead became the coronation of Dustin Johnson as a major championship winner.

Johnson, the world’s sixth-ranked golfer, has famously fallen just short many times in majors. In the 2010 PGA Championship, he was assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker he did not realize was a bunker. In the 2010 U.S. Open, he collapsed early as the 54-hole leader. In the 2015 U.S. Open, he three-putted the 72nd hole to hand the tournament to Jordan Spieth. He had won nine times on tour prior to today, but his name had become synonymous with major let-downs. Something about major tournaments always regressed Johnson from Stephen Curry at the three-point line to Andre Drummond at the free-throw line. Now, he can finally relax, with the monkey no longer on his back.

It did not come easy, though. Even putting the USGA controversy aside, Johnson started the day four strokes back of Ireland’s Shane Lowry. By the time Lowry got to the back nine, that lead had completely evaporated. Johnson was extremely steady on the back nine, with seven pars, one birdie, and just one bogey. He stepped onto the 18th tee with a two-stroke lead, calmly landed his drive in the fairway, and then hit an incredible second to within three-feet of the hole.

“It might be one of the best shots I’ve ever hit, especially with the circumstance,” said Johnson. “It was nice to have a three-footer to finish.”

From there he sunk his birdie putt, just the second birdie of the day at the tough 18th hole.

Johnson played the final round in the second-to-last group, just barely missing the final pairing when little-known Andrew Landry birdied his last two holes of round 3, including a 46-footer on 18. Landry, who put up a valiant effort the first three rounds and was one off the lead going into today, had the biggest fall from grace. A +7 front nine led to a final round 78 for Landry, and a T-15. Being in that penultimate group, may have taken off enough of the limelight, and been what Johnson needed to finally break though.

Finishing in a three-way tie in second place was Lowry, Scott Piercy, and Jim Furyk, who all finished at -1. Furyk, who also finished T2 last time the U.S. Open was at Oakmont, started the day ten strokes back, shot a 66, the best round of the day.

Other stories unfolded as the final round played: Early in the day, Brooks Koepka was on 63 record watch as he was -6 through 13 holes, before struggling down the stretch to shoot a 68. Sergio Garcia, another player famous for what he hasn’t done in majors, was in contention, but three consecutive bogeys on the back nine ended his dream yet again. Garcia finished E for the tournament. World #1 Jason Day even made a brief appearance into contention, which also evaporated over Oakmont’s brutal closing holes.

In the end, it was Dustin Johnson, the man who had been so close so many times before, who finally got to hoist the winner’s trophy.

“Best Father’s Day ever!”, said Johnson.

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