The motto of Royal Troon Golf Club sums it all up rather nicely. The Latin which adorns the 138-year-old Ayrshire links’ crest reads: “Tam Arte Quam Marte”, which means “as much by skill as by strength”.
In 2016, with a game taking to its extremes by 21st century technology and athleticism, that will come as a welcome sentiment to the shorter hitters amongst this 145th Open Championship field who so often feel they are disadvantaged by monster courses built for bombers.
Yet really the chief beneficiaries should be those longer hitters blessed with the technique and creativity in their short game and nowhere are those attributes currently so well packaged as in the body of Dustin Johnson.
Judging by the American’s continuing presentation of himself to the media as a man barely alive, so laid back is his demeanour, so difficult it appears to cajole more than a sentence at a time out of him, that “Tam Arte Quam Marte” might seem a bit high-falutin’ but it fits Johnson as perfectly as it applies to this week’s Open test.
The world number two finally crossed into the realm of major champions last month at the US Open and followed it up in his next start by winning the WGC- Bridgestone Invitational, so the red-hot form and confidence it brings is right there. He also, crucially, understands the nuances of links golf, having played at Portmarnock prior to a successful US Walker Cup win at Royal County Down in 2007 and has had a couple of brushes with Open success since he turned professional.
His tie for second behind Darren Clarke at Royal St George in 2011 has gone down as one of the handful of majors he let slip while opening rounds of 65 and 69 at St Andrews saw him lead after 18 and 36 holes before a miserable pair of 75s undid his hopes for another year.
Coming to Troon as a newly-minted US Open champion puts an entirely different complexion on Johnson’s approach and in this most productive of seasons, which has also produced a tie for fourth at the Masters, the 32-year-old is primed to continue his purple patch in the same way his “big four” rivals Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Jason Day did in 2014, early 2015 and late 2015/early 2016 respectively.
He may not have matched them in becoming world number one yet, that title still belongs to his Open co-favourite Day, but Johnson has arrived on south-west Scotland’s Ayrshire coast fresh from a weekend of links golf back at Portmarnock and The Island feeling like a million dollars and prepared to add his name to a long line of US champions at Troon.
“Ever since the first time I came over, I just liked it,” Johnson said of links golf. “I thought it was something different than we play on week in or week out in the US, or even around the world, it’s just different golf here. You’ve got to use a lot of your imagination. You’ve got to hit all kinds of different shots throughout the day. So it was just something I just enjoyed doing.”
He also enjoys being a major champion, having in his own words got the monkey off his back at Oakmont last month, erasing all those bitter memories of the ones that got away.
“It’s a good feeling, for sure,” he said yesterday. “But, yeah, the mindset’s just different. I’m not trying to win the first one. I already have. So on Sunday if I’m in contention, just knowing that I can get it done is a big confidence booster coming down the stretch. I always feel like I’m the best player in the world, but that’s just me. I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game. bviously I’m playing very well right now.
“I feel like if I keep playing like I am, then, yes, I will win a few more (majors).”
If Johnson is to follow in the footsteps of compatriots Todd Hamilton (2004), Justin Leonard (1997), Mark Calcavecchia (1989), Tom Watson (1982), Tom Weiskopf (1973) and Arnold Palmer (1962), he will need to see off a deep field of contenders who also believe they fit the bill.
McIlroy, having dropped to world number four since that hazy summer of 2014 when he won Open and PGA titles back to back, is returning to the championship after being unable to defend at St Andrews last year owing to a football-incurred injury.
With his Dubai Duty Free Irish Open victory in May still fresh in the memory and an encouraging week at the French Open where he tied third while making adjustments to his swing, McIlroy feels well placed to make a strong showing this week.
He took a subtle swipe at his nearest rivals Johnson, Spieth, and Day during his Tuesday press conference when he effectively threw his medals on the table and demanded they match his four major titles, a further sign McIlroy has tired of being compared unfavourably to his peers atop the rankings.
Similarly energised and motivated is Shane Lowry, agonisingly the runner-up to Johnson at Oakmont when he let slip a four-shot lead, who appears to have dealt positively with the disappointment of missing out on his maiden major victory.
A sure sign of his progress up the golfing food chain was his pairing for the first two rounds alongside double major winner Spieth and 2013 US Open champion Justin Rose and when he tees it up at Troon this morning, Lowry will feel right at home. They are in bullish mood, these Irish challengers with Graeme McDowell showing good form of late alongside former Open champions Pádraig Harrington and Darren Clarke as well as last year’s amateur hero Paul Dunne, who despite his struggles in a difficult rookie season on the European Tour, qualified for Royal Troon with a second successive final qualifying victory at Woburn.
Indeed, Lowry likes Ireland’s chances of lifting the Claret Jug here on Sunday.
“Rory is one of the favourites, so there’s obviously a chance of him winning. Graeme’s been playing okay. He had a good week, decent week last week but for his back nine on Sunday. And Pádraig is Pádraig, if he gets himself in with a sniff, you never know what can happen.
“I’m obviously playing okay. There is no reason why there can’t be an Irish winner, I think. We’ve got a strong challenge this week. We’re used to the conditions this course is going to throw. Yeah, there’s no reason why not. I just hope it’s me.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved