University Place, WA—There is no better word in sports to indicate both sides of a situation than the word potential. For those athletes tagged with the word “potential” there’s an acknowledgment of talent, but there’s also the downside that unfulfilled outcomes may also occur.
Dustin Johnson has been tagged with the word “potential” and even though he is a fixture in the world top ten rankings and has won multiple tournaments over the last several years on the PGA Tour, there has been a feeling that the 30-year-old has not delivered his best golf at the right moment.
Thursday’s first round of the 115th U.S. Open clearly showed that Johnson is ready to attain the next level in his golf career.
Firing a personal career-low 5-under-par 65 for the U.S. Open leaves him tied for the lead with Sweden’s Henrik Stenon. Johnson was in total command—save for an errant approach at the devilish par-3 9th hole. Six birdies were made in the round and all of the “potential” that’s been tagged on him worked ever so well during the 1st round at Chambers Bay.
Five years ago, Johnson held a three-stroke lead going into the final round the of the ’10 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. His final round there was a quick and utter meltdown—a horrendous 82. Just two months later, Johnson was in contention again at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Coming to the final hole, Johnson had a one-shot lead. Inadvertently, Johnson grounded his club in what was deemed a bunker and the resulting two-shot penalty prevented him snatching his first major title.
Johnson sees those two episodes as part of his rear view mirror and believes he is now more capable golf wise and more “mature” for what lies ahead in this year’s U.S. Open. After taking a six-month leave-of-absence from the PGA Tour in the middle of the ’14 season for “personal reasons” Johnson got married in September of last year to Paulina Gretzky—dauther of the hockey star Wayne—and had a son in January, ’15.
His golf in the ’15 season has been steady, losing in a playoff in Los Angeles but capturing the WGC event at Doral with steady play over the four rounds.
Johnson’s “potential” is something many have wondered on if and when it would begin to happen—not because of his innate physical skills, but whether he has the passion to show a keen desire to win on golf’s highest platforms. His demeanor this week shows a mental confidence his game is ready. Johnson has also stated that Chambers Bay is the kind of golf course where he feels comfortable and can execute whenever the situation. We shall soon see if that is the case. Fifty-four holes are yet to be played and a crowning on Father’s Day could well be the springboard for more major wins to come.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.