For all the cowboy images Dustin Johnson inspires, he lives up to most of them. Well, save for the whole riding on a horse, toting a six-shooter and busting through a saloon’s double doors. He doesn’t do those things as far as the general public’s aware.
But Johnson does have a knack for showing up on a time in a way that all good antiheroes do. He busted up Oakmont to win the US Open despite ludicrous interference by the USGA. And this weekend, Johnson pounded the fairways at Crooked Stick to take the BMW Championship and possession of the FedExCup Playoffs.
He finished 23-under-par, three strokes ahead of Paul Casey and set a competitive course record with a 63 in the second round. All the while, Johnson eased the nerves of US Ryder Cup fans who witnessed a less-than-inspiring last month of golf. A week after Rory McIlroy re-announced his presence at the top of the game, DJ countered with a dominant performance.
But it’s more than that. American fans wanted new blood—or at least, players in good form—at Hazeltine this fall. Instead, they got an out-of-sorts Zach Johnson and captain’s picks that will likely fall to a group of Matt Kuchar, JB Holmes, Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler, all fine players, none of whom are setting the world on fire at the moment. That is especially true of Fowler who after blowing the Barclays two weeks ago, bowed out of the playoffs on Sunday. He carded four rounds in the 70’s to finish in 59th place. Now, he’ll wait nervously Monday for Davis Love III’s call even if his last few months don’t merit selection at all.
Fowler needed Johnson to win as much as the rest of us stateside. In assuming a spot in golf’s quite unofficial “Big Four”—with Jordan Spieth, McIlroy and Jason Day, all major champions—Fowler also took on the task of reviving American’s hopes for the Ryder Cup. He failed at that in 2016. Johnson, who captured his major championship this summer, succeeded. Recall that he missed the 2014 debacle at Gleneagles due to his leave of absence.
Now, he emerges as the Americans’ best player. With the victory Sunday, Johnson matched Day with three wins in 2016. No one has won more.
He did it with the trademark style that will make him formidable in Suburban Minneapolis. Johnson fired four rounds comfortably in the 60’s, punctuated by Sunday’s 67. His eagle on 15 capped a typical performance. He played that hole, a Par-5, in 6-under-par for the week. That’s outstanding and borderline unfair.
But if there’s one area of Johnson’s game that makes him unbeatable at times, it’s his ability to rally at any moment. Because of his length and growing comfort with the putter, he finds birdies where others find pars. This allows him to take more risks and erase mistakes. His 23-under total included eight bogeys, an almost absurd total for a score that low.
That’s where DJ will strike fear into the Europeans. Spieth, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson, among others on the American team, all have skills that make them terrific match-play players. Only Johnson has the length and touch to make an impact at tee and green.
It worked for him Sunday and bodes well for him heading into the Tour Championship. But a Ryder Cup victory will truly allow Johnson to ride into the sunset of 2016.