Golf, eh. What a fickle game. Just ask Dustin Johnson. Flying heading into The Masters earlier in the year until he took a tumble and injured himself, the world No.1 looks a lot more human now going into the season’s third major.
He’s missed the cut, in fact, in his last two events, including the US Open at Erin Hills last month. That’s not the sort of form that offers encouragement for the 146th Open Championship, but the man who knows him best is quietly confident that Johnson can shrug off his recent performances to get in the mix at Royal Birkdale.
“It’s very unusual for him to miss the cut in the US Open,” said Butch Harmon, Johnson’s trusty coach. “He played fairly well from tee to green, but he putted terribly. That’s just one of those things.”
Referring to the back injury Johnson sustained slipping on a wooden floor in his rented house in Augusta, Harmon added: “He still wasn’t 100 per cent at Erin Hills. He still had a little hesitation in his swing from his injury, which he doesn’t have any more. Birkdale is a good golf course for him and I think he’ll do fine there.”
Johnson didn’t play in the 2008 Open Championship at the Southport venue, making his debut in the event the following year at Turnberry.
He’s since chalked up three top 10s in the game’s oldest major, including a tie for ninth behind Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon 12 months ago.
That followed him opening with a 65 at St Andrews, where he led at halfway before slipping to a disappointing tie for 49th.
“Dustin loves the Open Championship,” said Harmon. “He likes links golf. He likes the challenge of it. He controls his ball well in the air and he’s learned how to play on the ground, which you have to in links, although it looks like it’s been raining a lot in Southport and so the course isn’t as hard as they’d like it to be.”
Golf, of course, isn’t a game where “if” counts for anything. But, if Johnson, hadn’t suffered that untimely injury on the eve of The Masters, it does make you wonder if he could have been heading for Lancashire chasing a Grand Slam in this season’s majors.
“That was difficult, he was playing the best he had ever played in his life going into The Masters,” opined Harmon. “He was ready for the event. He was excited to play and then, boom, a freak accident. That set him back, to be honest.
“That was in April and now here we are in July and he’s still recovering from that, although I will say now the last time I talked to him before he went over to Ireland to play golf with some friends, he doesn’t have any pain, so that’s good. He’s looking good.
“I think Dustin just needs get some repetitions in and get his nerves settled again and he’ll be fine.”
Asked if felt what happened at The Masters will be motivation heading into the Claret Jug joust, he added: “Any time you pull out is tough. He had won three times. He was playing with tremendous confidence he had gotten to No.1, which was always his goal so it was difficult both physically and mentally.
“At the US Open, he said he felt fine, but there was still the anticipation that when he swung at it hard was it going to hurt was it not and so now he’s over all those fears.”