Dustin Johnson spoke eloquently of his friendship and admiration for Rory McIlroy but he was bowled middle stump by a ‘googly’ when reminded of a McIlroy stroke of brilliance.
Johnson joined Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff for a pre-tournament press conference ahead of Sunday’s TaylorMade-hosted ‘Sunday at Seminole’.
McIlroy, who will team with Johnson, was unavailable on the telephone hook-up for reasons unknown.
However, in the absence of the current World No. 1, it seemed opportune to speak to McIlroy’s Seminole ‘skins’ partner with Johnson himself a past World No. 1.
And given ‘DJ’ revealed some weeks ago that he had contacted McIlroy about the possibility of the pair teaming for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, one of 10 Tour events since cancelled, it seemed appropriate to get Johnson’s view on his Sunday teammate.
So, here we go.
“DJ? You touched on a few weeks ago on the fact that you and Rory were maybe thinking of teaming up for the New Orleans tournament. What do you admire about Rory as a player, and what do you like about him as a person?” I asked Johnson.
“I mean, obviously he’s a great player. I think everything about his golf game he does pretty darned well,” said Johnson.
“He’s No. 1 in the world, and he’s done it well for quite a long time.
“You know, and him as a person, I mean, I like — I think there’s a lot of things to like about Rory. I think he carries himself in a good manner. He’s always been a good friend to me, and he’s a good role model for kids, and I like the way he goes about things.
“He also puts in a lot of work. He does a lot of things right.
“There’s not really too much bad you can say about Rory. Or at least I can’t say anything bad.”
I followed-up by asking ‘DJ’ if there was a single shot or a moment in Rory’s career that stood out, and really impressed him.
DJ went quiet for a couple of seconds, and maybe that was the connection, but I had seemingly bowled him a googly. For those not familiar with the cricketing term, a ‘googly’ is a ‘wrong’ un’, a spin bowler’s secret weapon. It’s a delivery which looks like a normal leg-spinner but actually turns towards the batsmen, like an off-break, rather than away from the bat.
DJ responded: “I mean, I don’t know. Obviously he’s hit a lot of good shots. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of one, sorry.”
Fair answer and I was about to thank DJ when the PGA Tour’s Chris Reimer, the PGA Tour press officer helping to co-ordinate the conference calls stepped-in.
“I think he took $10 million out of your pocket in ’16 at the FedExCup, didn’t he?” said Chris.
Chris was referring to the final round of the 2016 FedEx Cup Final at East Lake in Atlanta when Rory and DJ were paired in the final round, going head-to-head for the Tour’s season-ending double – the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup title.
It turned victory roses for McIlroy in holing two shots on the 16th hole at East Lake that made him a most unlikely FedExCup champion.
The first one McIlroy didn’t even see go in.
Three shots behind with three holes to play at the Tour Championship, McIlroy holed a pitching wedge from 137-yards for eagle that gave him the spark he needed to close with a 6-under 64 and join a three-way playoff with the FedExCup title riding on the outcome.
Four playoff holes later and again on the 16th, after Ryan Moore made a par putt from just outside 15 feet, McIlroy knocked in his 15-foot birdie putt to win two trophies that he desperately wanted – the Tour Championship and the FedExCup.
McIlroy picked up a whopping $11.53 million in one day – the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus and $1.53 million for the Tour Championship, his second victory in three weeks that made him the first player to win four FedEx Cup playoff events.
His only hope was to win the Tour Championship and have Johnson finish worse than second alone. Johnson closed with a 73 and tied for sixth.
DJ responded: “Oh, when he holed that shot from the fairway, yeah. Well, I can’t say what I want to say on here, but yeah.”
I boldly spoke-up saying: “We’ll just make it up?”
“Yeah, you can just make something up, sure,” said Johnson.
“We’re good at doing that”, I said breaking into a laugh.
“Yeah, I know you are”, DJ signed off also now laughing.
Who said DJ didn’t have a sense of humour?