Johnson 'very confident' after impressive second round at U.S. Open
June 15, 2018
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Dustin Johnson fired a 3-under on Friday to take the solo lead at Shinnecock Hills. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Dustin Johnson was frozen in his follow-through for several seconds as he watched his ball roll slowly down the steep slope of Shinnecock’s Redan green — the one that caused so much controversy here 14 years ago.
One fan loudly encouraged Johnson’s ball on its lengthy journey, and when it finally dropped the U.S. Open leader balled his right hand in a fist, bent his elbow at a 90-degree angle and stared into the grandstands.
Throughout Friday’s round, even on this long attempt, Johnson never looked surprised on Shinnecock Hills’ poa annua greens. There was no shock at an unintended turn or frustration with a misdirected strike. He either bent his knees, begging for some assistance, as another ball barely missed its target or clenched his fist in quiet celebration of another successful stroke.
“Every putt looked like it was going to go in,” said Tiger Woods, who played alongside Johnson and finished 14 strokes behind him.
That’s why even this 45-footer on the seventh hole hardly elicited any emotion.
“I knew coming off the putter … (I) hit a really nice putt,” Johnson said. “About halfway there, it was on a really good line if it would just get to the hole.”
It was the only long putt that he needed in an impressive 67 that gave Johnson control of the U.S. Open. At 4-under 136, he is four shots ahead of Scott Piercy and Charley Hoffman.
This is just the seventh time in U.S. Open history that a player has led by by four or more strokes after 36 holes. Only Tom McNamara in 1909 failed to translate that large lead into a victory.
“He’s just hitting the fairways, keeping it in front of him and he’s playing DJ golf,” Justin Thomas said. “It’s just really good and consistent. He drives the ball really well. His distance control and his iron play, he flights it great. And he’s a very, very underrated bunker player. He had some great up-and-downs out of bunkers today and he’s putting the ball well.
“So pretty much has it all covered, I think.”
Johnson is coming off a six-shot victory at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic that returned him to No. 1 in the world. He’s undoubtedly been the best player thus far at Shinnecock Hills.
“LeBron (James) does things that you’re just like, ‘I don’t even know how he does that.’ DJ has the ability to do those things,” said Johnson’s swing instructor, Claude Harmon.
Johnson’s incredible length gets most of the attention, but that does a disservice to a well-rounded game that is well-suited for the multi-faceted examination that this historic course offers.
He ranks in the top 20 in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee (1st), Approach-the-Green (12th) and Putting (20th) this season. Johnson is eighth on TOUR in scrambling.
Major championships, and the Golden Age classics on which they’re conducted, also require a player to exhibit strong course management. Firm conditions make it imperative to approach the green from the correct angle. Johnson can dissect a course in three days, he told Harmon. If it took any longer, he’d need to find a new line of work. Johnson may not be the most introspective interview subject on TOUR, but in a game of infinite complexity, it can pay off not to overthink things.
“He sees things in very simplistic terms. (The media) has done a great job in the past, in the early days, of painting him to be dumb and stupid,” Harmon said. “He’s about as far from dumb as you can get. The way that everyone out here is trying to think, he does it without trying.”
Another U.S. Open champion, Jim Furyk, agreed that Johnson’s success at courses like Oakmont, Pebble Beach and Riviera prove that he knows how to plot his way around a course.
“In order to be the best player in the world, you have to manage your game well and get the ball around the golf course,” Furyk said. “For a guy who is known for length and dominating a course with power, … he seems to do really well at places where you have to kind of plod along and grind it out.”
Johnson has missed just six fairways in two rounds at Shinnecock, and a strong short game minimized the number of high-pressure par putts that are so common at a U.S. Open. He only needed to make two putts outside 10 feet – both for birdie – on Friday, and 10 of his 14 par putts were from 5 feet or less. He’s made just four bogeys in the first 36 holes.
“I like where par is a good score on every hole no matter what club you have in your hand,” Johnson said.
They don’t come much tougher than Oakmont, where Johnson won by three shots in 2016. Shinnecock Hills has provided two drastically different tests this week, and Johnson has passed them both. High winds, with gusts in the 30s, buffeted this historic linksland Thursday. Johnson was one of just four players to break par on a day when the field hit less than half the greens in regulation.
A cold rain fell for much of Johnson’s second round but he made just one bogey.
“It was still breezy, but with the rain coming down it was cooler. The golf ball was going nowhere,” Johnson said. “The course played really long. Through our first 13 or 14 holes, it was playing very difficult.”
Johnson has become a perennial contender at his national championship, finishing in the top four in three of the past four U.S. Opens. The only exception was last year at Erin Hills, when he missed the cut after the birth of his second son earlier in the week. He’s 7 under par in the past five U.S. Opens, and was a 12-foot putt away from also winning the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
“The harder it is, I know he thinks, ‘Good. Make it tough,’” Harmon said. “The worse the conditions, the easier it is for a guy like him because he literally has no pulse.
“I think we’re just seeing Dustin get very comfortable in difficult situations on difficult golf courses because he’s really good. He’s very confident right now.”
And for good reason.