So we have arrived at that point in the professional golf schedule that generated so much consternation months ago, even going back to 2015.
It was said by an endless line of players that come late July and early August there would be a frantic pace unlike anything the sport has ever known, and now that we’re here, suffice to say the lads were correct.
When the 98th PGA Championship — pushed up two weeks on the calendar to accommodate Olympic golf — gets under way Thursday at Baltusrol Golf Club, it will mark the third major championship in seven weeks.
In case that’s not busy enough for you, two weeks from now, golf will return to the Olympics for the first time in more than 100 years.
Whew. Take a deep breath, but don’t overlook that the deadline for Ryder Cup qualifying is down to just a handful of tournaments, that the biennial competition is just two months away, and what is also tossed into the equation are the play-off series on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour.
Digest it all and you can appreciate — even if you don’t agree with them — how players said no to a possible Olympics berth because there was just too jam-packed a schedule.
Oh, the zika virus controversy offered a convenient excuse, but if players were to be truthful, the biggest issue was squeezing another tournament into an already crowded summer stretch.
It’s hard to say how the congested schedule and already long golf season have impacted some players, but clearly Rory McIlroy (his one win being the Irish Open) has been sharper and Jordan Spieth is smarting over having squandered the Masters and turned in pedestrian efforts at the US Open (T-37) and Open Championship (T-30).
Justin Rose has been top five just once this season, Rickie Fowler in his last nine tournaments has managed to miss cuts at the Grade A attractions (Masters, the Players, Memorial, and US Open), and Bubba Watson had to go all the way to China for his only top 10 since March.
Notable names, lethargic games, though it would be up to them to offer proper perspective. What we do know is this: It might come as no surprise that the one player who has prospered in this busiest of golf seasons is the one player who is the definition of unflappable, Dustin Johnson.
While all around him players howled, officials backpedalled, and chaos reigned, Johnson calmly navigated his way to victory at the US Open.
Two weeks later he won his third World Golf Championship, and, for good measure, Johnson has finished T-9 at the Open and T-2 at the RBC Canadian Open.
His streak of consecutive top-10 finishes is at six, and when you look at his last 13 tournaments, Johnson has finished top five nine times, two of them victories.
In other words, if you accept the two-year roll of the Official World Golf Ranking, Jason Day gets the nod as No 1. But if you factor in a much smaller window, then you might join with those of us who suggest that Johnson is the best player in the world at the moment.
Certainly, it would be in keeping with recent trends should Johnson remain torrid and win this week’s PGA. Remember 2014 when McIlroy won the Open, the WGC-Bridgestone, and the PGA in a blistering stretch? Or 2015 when Spieth dominated early, Day took over late, and they each won five times?
It would surprise exactly no one if Johnson were to go on a similar run now that the heat is furnace-like and on a weekly basis there is an All-Star lineup teeing off.
Seemingly oblivious to frenetic environments and operating with ice in his veins, Johnson coughed up his share of majors — 2010 and 2015 US Opens, 2011 and 2015 Open Championships, 2010 PGA — but now that he has won one, even one that USGA officials nearly took from him, here’s a guess that the door will open for a few more.
This week, for instance.
Baltusrol is a big ballpark, nearly every tree-lined hole a copy — thick rough, fast greens, plush green. As McIlroy was in 2014 and Day was a year ago, Johnson is long and fearless with the driver, a massive advantage.
But unlike McIlroy and Day in 2016, Johnson is clearly on his game and totally at peace when all around him is hectic.
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