Washington (AFP) – Dustin Johnson overcame injuries and personal issues to become a major golf champion, the long-hitting American star with a low-key attitude grabbing the world number one ranking in 2017.
After losing the top spot to compatriot Justin Thomas in May, the 33-year-old son-in-law of ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky bounced back with a PGA Tour win in Memphis to reclaim the top ranking.
Even after a disappointing third place finish in the US Open — where he led by four shots through 36 holes only for his putting touch to desert him at the weekend — Johnson, a man figuring to take a leading Ryder Cup role, was promptly installed by Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook as the early 12-1 betting favorite to win the British Open.
US Open winner Brooks Koepka, a good friend of Johnson, sounded like someone who would take that bet.
“He’s going to win another (major),” Koepka said. “In my mind, he’s probably one of the most talented guys to ever play the game.
“And the attitude, the work ethic, everything that he brings to it — he will, when he’s done, go down as one of the best of all time.”
Johnson joined the US PGA Tour in 2008 and has won at least once in each of his 11 seasons, capturing January’s Tournament of Champions in Hawaii before collecting his 18th US PGA title at Memphis.
Johnson matched Tiger Woods for the most tour wins since 2008.
“It’s very difficult to win out here. The talent level of the guys on tour is very high and it’s hard to get it done,” Johnson said.
“So to win 11 consecutive years is something I’m really proud of and I want to continue that streak as long as I can.”
The only longer US PGA season win streaks belong to 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus at 17 and 14-time major champion Woods at 14.
Johnson nearly captured his first major title at the 2010 PGA Championship, with a one-shot lead entering the final hole. He appeared to have made bogey after landing in a sandy nature area but was issued a two-stroke penalty after it was deemed he had grounded his club in a bunker, dropping to fifth place.
In 2011, Johnson shared second behind winner Darren Clarke at the British Open. He suffered a back injury in 2012 and in 2014 announced a break from the tour to seek professional help for “personal challenges.”
Golf magazine reported Johnson was banned by the tour for six months after testing positive for cocaine following two prior positives for recreational drugs. PGA Tour officials indicated Johnson’s leave was voluntary and he was not under suspension.
Johnson returned in February 2015 and won his first title the following month at Doral. He shared the 54-hole US Open lead but missed a birdie putt on the final hole that gave Jordan Spieth the victory.
– Major breakthrough –
Johnson’s major breakthrough came at the 2016 US Open, when he won by three strokes over Ireland’s Shane Lowry, American Scott Piercy and Jim Furyk, who will captain the 2018 US Ryder Cup team upon which Johnson figures to be a key player.
The 2016 campaign finished with Johnson as the US PGA’s top money winner and Vardon Trophy winner for the lowest average score. He also won the PGA Tour Player of the Year award.
Another breakthrough awaited Johnson in 2017 when he won at Riviera in February to claim the world number spot for the first time.
He stayed there for 64 weeks before Justin Thomas briefly displaced him, and admits that holding the top spot is a motivator for him.
“It’s definitely a spot where I want to be,” he said. “It’s motivation to keep me working hard and keep doing the things I’m doing.”