Everything in the life of Dustin Johnson is making you look the other direction this week.
- Zero top-10s in his last three starts
- The lingering hangover from his untimely fall in Augusta
- A disinterested putter and missed cut with a whimper at the Memorial
- The impending birth of his second child delaying his arrival in Wisconsin
Add it all up and there are so many reasons why you would take the field over DJ at this week’s U.S. Open.
Here’s the thing: He’s going to win.
The old phrase ‘drive for show, putt for dough,’ has faded in the modern game. Yes, players always must make putts, but obtaining as many of those putts has become the most valuable currency in professional golf.
The best driver of the golf ball in the world, Johnson leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained off the tee. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, but when you add in the same measurements on getting the ball to the green, Johnson still reigns supreme, leading the Tour in strokes gained: approach to the green as well. More than ever before, Johnson has all the options.
“Before, I never would have laid up [on par 5s] just because I felt like I could chip it closer than I was going to wedge it,” Johnson said last month. “But now it’s the other way around. I feel like I can wedge it closer than I can chip it, obviously in certain situations.”
With a course in Erin Hills that will play in upwards of 7,741 yards and offer more par 5s than any U.S. Open in 25 years (1992 at Pebble Beach), Johnson’s ability to give himself looks will be a heightened weapon.
There is also only one tree over the entire 18-hole layout (on No. 17). One. Remember those lines Johnson took a year ago at Oakmont? How about the shot-tracer porn Johnson provided at Chambers Bay? Erin Hills will make it a trifecta of courses that offer the perfect canvas for Johnson to use his masterstroke.
So, what about that putter? He ranks 60th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting. For every week where he rolls in more 20-footers than anybody else you watch, he gives fans displays like the first round at Muirfield Village. It was an ugly combination of poor speed control and shoved short putts.
No sure bet is ever without some risk. Knowing who will have the hottest putter is the biggest guessing game. It could be Johnson. It could be an amateur. That’s golf.
Why does it feel like the risk is on Johnson and not those in pursuit? Rory McIlroy is a bigger health risk of late. Jason Day is a bigger putting risk of late. Jordan Spieth is a bigger inconsistent risk of late. Sergio Garcia is on a Masters honeymoon before his actual honeymoon.
The best bets left in the field (Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas) all enter without a major. That emotional hurdle used to be the kryptonite for Johnson. No longer.
You can have the field, I’ll take DJ.