Dustin Johnson hits the ball so hard off the tee and wields his shorter clubs with such precision that the newly crowned U.S. Open champion has a leg up on Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and everybody else at Royal Troon for this week’s Open Championship.
That’s what Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee believes, and he’s not alone in boosting DJ to the head of the roster of those co-favored to chug from the Claret Jug come Sunday night in Scotland.
"The last person to drive the ball this far and also be the best wedge player on the PGA Tour was a fellow by the name of Tiger Woods," Chamblee said last week during a pre-Open teleconference. "So it's a rare combination when you see somebody, and almost unfair when you're competing against him, see somebody have this kind of length and control with their wedges."
Johnson’s length with the driver (second in PGA Tour driving distance by an eyelash to J.B. Holmes — 312.8 yards to 312.5) is no secret. He’s been among the four biggest bombers on tour for, like, ever.
It’s his game from 175 yards in, though, that propelled him to what many pundits believe was his first of many major victories at Oakmont as well as the follow-up Bridgestone Invitational triumph that lifted him into the co-favorite spot for the British. Indeed, his enhanced wedge game over the past six years has made Johnson almost without peer on tour, according to Chamblee’s colleague, David Duval.
"He's the most talented player there is in golf [in the last few years]," Duval, who will contend for his second British Open title this week, said on the conference call. "He has that weapon that is just basically unbeatable, driving the golf ball [combined with improved wedge play]."
For sure, Johnson is a formidable opponent with a wedge in his hands. He has gone from 37th in approaches from 50-125 yards in 2011 to first, and from 101st to fourth from 150-175 yards since 2015.
Duval also touts Johnson’s skill on the greens, calling him "one of the better putters on tour." The numbers bear that out as well, as DJ is now 38th in strokes gained putting — up from 71st last year.
Then there’s the psychological fortitude Johnson showed down the stretch of one of the strangest and certainly most controversial finishes to any major. With all the uncertainty swirling about whether he did or did not incur a penalty by causing his ball to move early into his final round of the U.S. Open, the guy whose mental makeup has been questioned over the years came up huge.
His three-putt to lose the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay was just the latest of many apparent brain cramps DJ has suffered over the years when he coughed up chance after chance to rack up major wins. After each incident, including the bunker mishap at Whistling Straits in the 2010 PGA Championship that cost him the title and the questionable decision midway through his final nine holes that ended his quest for the 2011 British, Johnson shrugged his shoulders and moved on.
"Who else could withstand the chaos this Sunday of the U.S. Open?" Chamblee wondered. "Who else could have withstood that who hadn't been through what Dustin had been through at the PGA Championship on the last hole or on the back nine at Royal St. George's in 2011 or the back nine at the U.S. Open last year? Who else could have withstood that? It would have been really difficult to do, and it was certainly amazing to watch."
Some great golf by @DJohnsonPGA all week, strong way to finish overcoming that rules farce. Happy Father's Day to DJ and all of you.— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) June 20, 2016
Blend Johnson’s distance with wedge deftness, putting prowess and what-me-worry attitude and, really, it’s no contest.
"You put all those things together and … the sky’s the limit for him right now," said Duval.
For 13-time tour winner Duval, the only real question remains is whether DJ goes flag hunting from the start at Royal Troon.
"Under the right circumstances, I thought Dustin Johnson could drive the first green," Duval said, referring to the 375-yard par-4 that features one of the widest fairways in the game but also the Swilcan Burn that has swallowed many a golf ball on the way to the putting surface. "That’s just something that's just tough to beat."