There’s the ole saying we all know that no-one ever remembers who finished second. Keen golf fans will know it was Dustin Johnson who was joint runner-up to Darren Clarke in the 2011 Open Championship, the last time it was played at Royal St. George’s.
At the time of the then 140th Open Championship, Johnson had played in just seven Majors and made a name for himself for all the wrong reasons in losing the 2010 U.S. Open after leading by three shots with a round to play but then posting a closing day 82 to tumble five behind Pebble Beach winner Graeme McDowell.
With a round to play at the 2011 Open, Johnson was a shot behind Clarke who led the Sandwich field by one. Clarke would eventually win by three with Johnson and Mickelson sharing second place and it would be then a further 16 Majors and five years before Johnson would climb to the top in a major and that was in capturing the 2016 U.S. Open crown at Oakmont.
‘DJ’, as we all know him, has returned to Royal St. George’s as the World No. 1 and also a Masters champion, commanding the respect that he may not have earned a decade ago.
“Ten years was a long time ago, but obviously I have good memories here, and I did play well,” he said. “I do like this golf course. I feel like it’s a tough golf course. It’s going to be difficult, especially with the wind direction that it’s supposed to blow for the week. It’s a typical links course; you’ve got to hit golf shots, and you’ve got to hit them where you’re looking or you’re going to have a tough time.
“For me, I feel like most of it’s going to be driving. If I can drive it well, then I feel like I’m going to have a really good week.
“The course, obviously it’s the same golf course, but it was a little bit firmer in 2011. They’ve had a lot of rain, so it’s playing a little bit softer. But it’s starting to firm up a little bit, and I feel like the course is in really good shape. The rough is definitely a little bit thicker than it was back then. Yeah, I think it’s shaping up to be a great Open Championship.”
It was a question naturally you’d expect to be asked of Johnson when quizzed if he is a better player now than a decade ago, and in listening to his reply, it reminded me of that great line from the Shawshank Redemption when ‘Red’ is again up before the parole board.
“I do. A different player,” Johnson said. “Obviously I shape it — back then I was hitting a draw; now I predominantly fade it, especially off the tee. But I still turned my irons over. But yeah, it was a long time ago. Definitely a different player.”
Not that ‘DJ’ is to be likened to any criminal but if there’s one player teeing-up this week who could get away with joining Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth on three different major victories, it’s Johnson.
“Winning The Open would definitely be right up at the top,” he said. “It’s obviously a major. It’s a tournament where I’ve been close quite a few times. I really like coming over here and playing. Yeah, it would be right up at the top with the rest of them.”
A decade ago, I ended-up with Dustin Johnson’s putter during the final round of the 2011 Open. I was working, as I still do, with the R&A media team helping out in bringing players to the media centre over the official opening three days and then once the tournament proper got underway, I would walk escorting the media about the course.
So, on the final day of the 140th Open, I am walking the last group with Darren Clarke and Johnson. I think it may have been either the 14th or 15th hole and Johnson’s just putted out and handed his putter to his caddy, Joe LaCava who just two months later would leave ‘DJ’ to work for Tiger Woods.
Joe was looking to go to a porta toilet, so he handed me Johnson’s putter and said: ”Hey Bernie, Can you give this (putter) to DJ?” I replied something like: “No problem”.
I thought nothing of it until I get back into the media centre as Clarke was headed to the scorer’s hut, when the R&A staff behind the counter began remarking: “Hey Bernie? What were you doing with Dustin’s putter?”
I replied: “What do you mean?”.
“The TV commentators were talking about you and wondering why you were giving Dustin his putter on such-and-such a hole,” came the response.
So, there you go! A few seconds of glory as ‘DJ’s’ caddy was off ‘spending a penny’.
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