Even when doing the right thing, Dustin Johnson couldn’t get anything right at Pebble Beach on Sunday.
On the 18th green, following the four most disappointing hours of his young PGA career, Johnson made the classy decision to putt out, setting the solo stage for playing partner and eventual US Open winner Graeme McDowell.
Dustin quickly lined up his little tap-in and promptly lipped out a gimmie birdie putt.
The hiccup essentially told the story.
Johnson’s final round at the season’s second major provided plenty of gasps and few cheers from the sympathetic gallery.
The sad tale becomes more depressing when you crunch the numbers. Had he broken 77, Johnson would have captured his first major. He never sniffed the already high number.
Standing on the fifth tee, following a nightmare three-hole stretch where his golf ball explored some of Pebble’s lesser known real estate, leading to a triple, a double, and a bogey on his card, Johnson still had a shot.
A back nine 40 eliminated the drama and only added to the mounting horror. One tough break piled right on top of the other as Johnson faded fast.
The "it" kid displayed a Sully Sullinger level of coolness as he picked apart the Northern California gem of a course late Saturday afternoon. Whether Sunday jitters, an off day, or a mixture of the two derailed Johnson’s momentum, the scars still remain from such a rocky showing on one of the game’s biggest days.
Johnson, a near shoe-in for this year’s US Ryder Cup team, has already reached a cliché fork in the road. He was American golf’s next big thing less than 72 hours ago.
Where does he go from here?
To Johnson’s credit, he handled the media extremely well after such a difficult Father’s Day. He took full responsibility for the 82. In Dustin’s mind, the shaky event has already come and gone. But can we take him at his word?
Hopefully, Johnson found a quiet spot to reflect on the grand scheme of things shortly after leaving the scorer’s tent. Still in his mid-20s, the big hitter can take plenty away from the experience. He’s already accomplished so much, yet Johnson’s best golf remains in front of him.
It’s not all bad.
Dustin’s top eight finish guarantees him a spot in next year’s Open, although his string of solid events on tour assured him a tee time anyway. He’s already wealthy beyond any reasonable standards, collecting big paychecks at Pebble on three occasions over the past eighteen months.
And the twilight view of the Pacific Ocean probably looked spectacular from the Monterey bluffs once he cooled off.
Of course, that’s easy for me to say. I watched Johnson’s uncomfortable round on a La-Z Boy. He actually lived through the darn thing.
While Dustin’s final round steeliness is debatable, his pure talent is not. Johnson cracks the ball a country mile. That tee shot he unleashed on 18 must have been therapeutic. He outdrove McDowell by a good 70 yards. And his short game, although absent on Sunday, usually comes through.
If asked to back Johnson, Anthony Kim, or Ricky Fowler as the future American superstar, I’d put my money on DJ in a second.
We’ve seen players lose their edge following Major meltdowns. Jean Van De Velde’s British Open free fall immediately stands out, as does Brent Snedeker’s closing 77 at the Masters just a few years ago.
Pep talks only provide so much help after a head scratcher like Sunday, especially coming from a 13 handicap who’d never match Johnson’s six-over mark on two, three, and four. But DJ deserves some admiration, even from a municipal course duffer like me.
You’re a damn fine player, Dustin Johnson. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to erase this ugly memory at other majors. You’re built like an NFL wide receiver and stronger than any golfer on tour.
The world’s still in front of you. The public is on your side.
Show the people what you can do.