Part I: 2016, The Year of Second Chances

Dustin Johnson wins US Open despite the golf gods being clearly against him.

Dustin Johnson wins US Open despite the golf gods being clearly against him.

In an effort to be more like Thought Catalog, I’m going to talk some golf.

June 19, 2016 may have been the greatest day in sports, ever. I say this as someone who recently started watching sports after moving home, post-college, because there was nothing better to do. But, this is the Internet, and the Internet is a paradise of amateurs who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Of all the sports on television, I love watching golf. I quickly learned that golf is on three or four hours a day (depending on the tournament) on weekends, which makes the narratives extremely easy to follow. I actually fell in love with golf during last year’s U.S. Open, or at least it was one of the many turning points.

First, it was Masters, then it was the Players, then it was the U.S. Open. Notice that two out of those three tournaments was won by 22-year-old (soon to be 23-year-old), Jordan Spieth. Spieth, however, has lost his mojo this year, most notably on the 12th hole at the Masters. I, along with the rest of American golf, was lying on the floor, screaming when his ball fell in the water the second time, and the heartbreak was real. Despite already winning twice on tour this season, let us remember that, Spieth, just this time last year, was on the verge of potentially going for the Grand Slam, and boy, did he get close–finishing tied for fourth at the British Open and a solo second at the PGA Championship, where he relentlessly dueled with current World Number One, Jason Day, who eventually won the major by putting up the ultimate golf clinic.

As last year’s golf season came to an end and Spieth was golf’s new star in a post-Tiger era, we almost forgot about Dustin Johnson. Johnson, the man who nearly won the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, as Spieth sat in the clubhouse with his score of -5, waiting to see if Johnson will win, force a playoff, or come in second. Then, Johnson did the unimaginable: he three-putted the 18th hole. Spieth’s coronation as U.S. Open champion, or as golf’s new golden boy, or as one of the greatest of all time, officially began. At the time, I was far too young a sports fan to comprehend how damn heartbreaking Johnson’s three-putt was–I was happy to see Spieth win, having been practically introduced to golf because of Spieth’s performance at Augusta, and was extremely impressed by how he bounced back from his double-bogey at Chambers–but re-watching Johnson three-putt was hard.

Johnson was seen as a choker–perhaps unlucky, at times, but a choker. Yet, at this year’s U.S. Open, he was simply dazzling: an exciting, precise bomber and an improved putter. I’m going to admit that I was initially rooting for Sergio Garcia (the ultimate golf underdog) the whole time. For a moment, it looked like there was a chance that Garcia could very well prevail, especially after the amazing hole-in from the bunker on the eighth hole, which was followed by him rescuing a bird. However, Garcia faltered a bit in the back-nine and had to settle for a T-5 finish.

As the day progressed, the main narrative quickly switched to Johnson. When the USGA told Johnson at the twelfth hole that the rule officials were still reviewing whether or not his putter may have caused his ball to roll backwards (??) at the fifth hole, but they wouldn’t let him know whether or not he’ll get a one-shot penalty until after the round is over (??), I felt awful for Johnson, who had to play the rest of his round not knowing whether or not he’ll be penalized. While this may have affected the rest of the field–and judging by the final scores, it certainly may have had a profound effect–I couldn’t imagine the pressure he was under. Although many have criticized Johnson for being sort of a blank slate (read Shane Ryan’s chapter on Johnson in Slaying the Tiger), I’m willing to argue that pressure is still pressure in the final round of the U.S. Open, and whatever Johnson was experiencing was probably no different. And he got to show the USGA what he was made of–finishing the round at -5, a four-shot lead, making the one-shot penalty ruled after his round a moot point.

While I love bombers (I absolutely love watching Bubba Watson drive a ball off the tee), Johnson never appealed to me. While he’s sort of an underdog with his history of major disappointments (no pun intended), he didn’t really have much character. Sure, he is an attractive athlete who is engaged to Wayne Gretzky’s attractive socialite daughter and they have a beautiful child together–but, then what? Compared to his fellow players’ very candid showcases of disappointment after a big loss, Johnson never seemed too bothered by his losses, even as the rest of the world watched in collective horror. Perhaps over-coached by media coaches, he even failed to be compelling when he had to explain his drug addiction.

Yet, there was something magical about Johnson’s win at the U.S. Open. Whoever he was off the course merged with the sunset-lit golf hero he became over the course of the back nine of Oakmont. The patrons chanted “DJ, DJ, DJ” and “USA, USA, USA” as Johnson walked to the 18th hole with a definitive lead. Alas, that lack of taking it all too seriously, seems to work well for him this time around. While the likes of Spieth and Rory McIlroy were seen tweeting furiously at USGA’s decision to maybe penalize Johnson at the end of the round, Johnson, though rattled, played it much cooler than anyone else in his position would have. The USGA had since apologized after the wrath had ensued.

I admire Johnson so much for keeping calm, because I feel like it’s the complete opposite of how I, and many others, would have reacted. Beside the fact that Johnson is a world-class golfer, I admire him for relying on pure talent and intuition–qualities that I, and many other people, probably don’t possess. And, in a first time in a long time, so did the rest of a golf world, who, in the past year, had embraced Spieth, whose on-course cerebral neuroses and off-course gee whizery made him so relatable and charming. Now, I suppose, we’re ready to be enchanted by a different kind of golfer–one that we see so little of ourselves in, yet should strive to be more like. Because he rose from the ashes of last year’s three-putt at the 18th hole at Chambers Bay to birdie the 18th hole at Oakmont, against all odds.

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