Dustin Johnson falters after hot start at the 2023 PGA Championship
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Dustin Johnson falters after hot start at the 2023 PGA Championship

A photo of golfer Dustin Johnson

PITTSFORD, NY – Never known to be much of a raconteur to begin with, Dustin Johnson made a hasty and silent retreat from Oak Hill Country Club after a sloppy and disappointing 74 dropped him to 1-over-par 141 at the halfway point of the 105th PGA Championship. Tied for 19th with 11 other players, he trails co-leaders Viktor Hovland, Corey Conners, and Scottie Scheffler by six shots.

The day was a far cry from his sizzling 67 to open the tournament. Starting on the back and trailing first round leader Bryson DeChambeau by one shot, DJ was betrayed nearly every club in his bag: first by his putter, then by his wedge, then a mid-iron and finally his driver. Four times in his first five holes, DJ missed short or mid-length putts to tie for the lead. Two of those were cruel lip-outs.

Then, slowly, the wheels started to come off. Self-inflicted back-to-back bogeys at 16 and 17 were made double disappointing since he split both fairways with 325-yard drives. At 16, he missed the green by just two yards, but his pitch soared over the pin leaving him 22 feet for par, which he missed. At 17, he three-putted.

Mind you, the back nine is supposed to be the easier side. Thus far, seven of the nine hardest holes at Oak Hill’s East Course are on the front nine. The par-3 third was particularly named by many players in pre-tournament interviews as particularly brutal, and with good reason. 245 yards long, fronted by staircase bunkers and featuring a green designed to accept a much more lofted club than the players are using to reach the green, it’s played the third hardest hole of the tournament thus far.

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It also turned DJ into an instant meme. He cold shanked a 5-iron, effectively turning a par 3 into a dogleg.

Still reeling from the downward spiral, at the 502-yard par-4 sixth, where Allen’s Creek weaves drunkenly across and then along the fairway, Johnson hit a goofy slice into the hazard a la Judge Smails at Bushwood. Anguished, he let the club drop in frustration, then stomped down the fairway to take a penalty drop.

He selected a 9-wood for his second shot. The loft on the 9-wood saved him from another penalty, he pulled it into the rough between the green and the creek, and took three more to get down for a ghastly double bogey. Throw in another bogey at No. 7 for good measure, and DJ was finally able to limp home, lick his wounds, screech the tires on the rental vehicle and beat a hasty retreat from the day.

Where Thursday, he could do little wrong, on Friday, DJ couldn’t get out of his own way. Erratic driving (5 of 14 fairways hit) and a flaccid eight greens in regulation leaves him tied for 86th in the former category and tied for 97th in the latter. But the biggest concern is the 29 other players either tied or in front of him, including two of his LIV mates: Brooks Koepka who stands tied for 6th at 2-under after a scintillating 66 and Bryson DeChambeau, who birdied three of his last four holes to power back from a sluggish start and finish tied for 4th at 3-under.

About the author

Jay Flemma

Jay Flemma

Starting with a blog and a dream, Jay Flemma launched his first sports-writing website in 2004. Some 13 years and 25 major golf championships later, Jay has won multiple national sports writing awards. Besides GNN, his work has appeared in numerous books as well as on-line at Cybergolf, PGA.com, GolfObserver, GolfChannel.com and many other sites and print magazines. When not trying to find a lost golf ball, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet, sports and trademark lawyer in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.