By Doug Ferguson | The Associated Press
MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Dustin Johnson had never been to Winged Foot until this week for the U.S. Open, or so he thought.
The man is renowned for having a short memory.
Turns out he was at Winged Foot some years ago for a corporate outing, though he can be forgiven for not remembering. It wasn’t on the fabled West course that has dished out equal parts joy and misery since it first hosted the U.S. Open in 1929.
“I think we played the other one because I didn’t remember one hole,” Johnson said Tuesday.
He is the best player in golf coming into the second major of the year, and he is not coming in blind. Johnson has glanced at some drone coverage of the course, and he watched highlights from the last U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2006.
The rough got his attention, as it should. It is among the deepest at any U.S. Open.
The finish would have looked familiar, too, something Johnson would do well to forget. He’s already had enough calamity happen to him in the U.S. Open, even the one he managed to win.
Besides, the notorious deep rough wasn’t all that decided the final hour of that 2006 U.S. Open.
Phil Mickelson missed the rough so badly on the 18th that his drive caromed off a hospitality tent into grass that was dead and thin from spectators. It was his next shot — a 3-iron into a tree — that led to double bogey.
Colin Montgomerie made his double bogey from the fairway. Jim Furyk was in the apron of the fairway when he tugged it into the bunker, blasted out nicely to 5 feet and missed his par putt. They all finished one shot behind Geoff Ogilvy, whose par save began with a tee shot that landed in a divot.
That stands out because it was the most recent. Winged Foot, though, has a history of being tough on front-runners.
Go back to 1929. The great Bobby Jones had a four-shot lead with three holes to play and made triple bogey on the 15th hole and a bogey on the next hole. He was spared an ignominious collapse by making a curling 12-foot par putt on the final hole and winning the 36-hole playoff by a whopping 23 shots.
The “Massacre of Winged Foot” is known for Hale Irwin winning at 7-over par in 1974. Often overlooked is that 24-year-old Tom Watson shot 41 on the back nine for a 79 and lost the 54-hole lead. Irwin had the 54-hole lead 10 years later, by one shot over Fuzzy Zoeller, and shot 79.
Winged Foot and Johnson would seem to be a perfect fit.
Johnson took a three-shot lead into the final round at Pebble Beach in 2010, lost it all on the second hole and it only got worse from there on his way to an 82. He needed a 12-foot eagle putt to win in 2015 at Chambers Bay and three-putted for par to finish one shot behind.
Most recent was Shinnecock Hills two years ago, when Johnson took a four-shot lead into the weekend, shot 77 on the baked greens on Saturday and finished two shots behind Brooks Koepka.
Johnson never seems bothered by the misses because of that short memory. And anything in his mind right now is from the last month or so, most of it great. Two victories. Two runner-up finishes, neither self-inflicted.
Expectations are high from everyone but him.
“I mean, I expect to play well every week,” Johnson said. “But coming here … the game is in good form right now, hopefully it stays in good form for the rest of the week, but it’s one of those golf courses where it’s very difficult and you need to be spot-on if you want to play well.”
Johnson shedded the “best to never win a major” label at Oakmont in 2016, an incredible performance considering he didn’t even know the score over the final two hours because the USGA waited until it was over to assess a penalty shot that Johnson still thinks he didn’t deserve from his ball moving on the green.
But if there’s a case for “best with one major,” he wins in a landslide.
Johnson, who turned 36 in June, has 23 victories on the PGA Tour. Of players who began their careers in the last 40 years, only Tiger Woods, Mickelson and Vijay Singh have won more times. They all have three majors or more (a lot more in the case of Woods).
Winged Foot gets mentioned alongside Oakmont when it comes to the toughest U.S. Open courses. Johnson smiled at the comparison when it was mentioned to him last week in Atlanta. His game is built for a course like this. His form is right where he wants it going into a major.
What could possibly go wrong?