Dustin Johnson has had to put up with being called many things, many of them unrepeatable without the advice of a lawyer, but he will not mind his latest tag — major winner.
The big-hitting American’s victory at the US Open was more a triumph of mind over matter than it was over an Oakmont course which was far less fearsome than expected.
Up to that point Johnson’s back catalogue was a litany of blown chances and whispers about his private life, but credit to the 31-year-old for ignoring the doubters and innuendo and finally getting the job done in testing circumstances.
Whatever your views on Johnson, it was difficult not to sympathise with the South Carolina powerhouse as his victory bid on Sunday was threatened to be derailed when the US Golf Association waited almost two hours to inform him mid-round it was considering a one-shot penalty for a perceived infringement on the fifth green.
Leading the tournament with seven holes to go he could easily have been wracked with self-doubt (it would not have been the first time) and for a brief spell his game lost its precision, but he recovered impressively to finish in style with three perfect shots to birdie the last.
As conclusions go it was probably the complete opposite of what most would have predicted, given his past record, as Johnson finally shook off his “bottler” label.
Back in 2010 he led going into the final round of the US Open at Pebble Beach but shot an 82.
Two months later he had a one-stroke advantage playing the last at Whistling Straits in the USPGA only to ground his club in a bunker, incur a two-shot penalty, and miss out on a play-off.
A year later he was two behind eventual winner Darren Clarke in the Open at St George’s when he hit his second shot to the par-five 14th out of bounds and made double-bogey to end his challenge.
When Johnson announced late in 2014 he was taking a leave of absence from the sport the rumour mill went into overdrive. There were reports in the United States, uncorroborated by the PGA Tour, he had failed a drugs test.
The following January Johnson gave an interview to the same media outlet who had printed those claims flatly denying the allegations, but admitting he had been battling problems away from the course with excessive drinking the primary one.
“I don’t miss waking up with a hangover, and I didn’t drink very often. It was just when I did it was a little too much,” he told Golf.com, going on to explain he had cleaned up his act with fiancée Paulina Gretsky expecting their first child.
Johnson, who averages 310 yards off the tee this season, may have returned to the game renewed and refreshed but he could not shake his major tournament demons.
Six months later he three-putted the 72nd hole from 12 feet when Chambers Bay hosted the US Open to not only miss out on victory but also the chance to go into a play-off again.
Johnson was in danger of being defined by his apparent deficiencies under pressure but the way in which he dealt with, and responded to, the farcical finish at Oakmont finally proved he has the mental strength to match his on-course power.
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