Bring on Oakmont, bring on the church pews.
That was the story going into the 2016 U.S. Open.
As if the man-made course with its myriad of narrow fairways, bunkers of all shapes and sizes and lightning greens weren’t enough of a challenge, this year the players had to deal with Mother Nature from the outset.
The first round had to be halted because of rain, followed by a re-start, which was followed by another rain delay and ultimately a postponement to the following day. Some players didn’t even have a chance to begin the round.
Thus a tournament renowned for its difficulty, in particular this course in Pittsburgh, played mental games on the players, each of them seeking to add a major win to their careers. Many of those who survived the cut had never won a major.
“The golf course really played tough,” said Dustin Johnson.
Johnson prevailed, a year after a heartbreaking loss when he three-putted on the 18th green, losing by one shot to Jordan Spieth.
Perhaps the golfing gods wanted to create some additional drama a year later, but surely what happened to Johnson will be talked about for some time. While addressing the ball on the fifth hole with his putter down, the ball moved an inch. Johnson immediately spoke to the officials, who told him he would not be penalized. But after some discussion behind the scenes, the officials decided to tell Johnson on the 12th hole he might indeed be penalized after the round was over.
And therein lay the interesting, fascinating, craziness that makes golf so maddening. Because tournaments of this magnitude are watched with eagle eyes by millions of people who are acutely aware of the rules of the game, all it takes is a violation for social media to rage. If the officials had not allowed for the possibility that Johnson would have been penalized, they would have left themselves open for criticism. But the fact they didn’t make a definitive decision one way or the other and decided to wait until the round was over created one of the biggest kerfuffles in golf history. Johnson won by four strokes, so penalizing him afterward when he was shown the video dropped the margin of victory to three. If he had a one-stroke victory after regulation play and the officials decided to penalize him afterward, it would have created an even bigger controversy.
So what we learned from the 2016 U.S. Open is that it takes a special kind of skill set to overcome the course, the weather elements and the rules to finish first. Johnson took a leave of absence from the game in August, 2014 to seek professional help for personal challenges.
The various challenges he faced on the golf course afterward tested his mental resolve, perhaps none more so than last year’s U.S. Open. A year later, he dug down and overcame what surely could have been the kind of thing to become mentally unhinged, particularly after a disastrous end in 2015.
But Johnson prevailed. He put it all together with his driving, short game and his putter, the latter of which was considered the weakest part of his game. This was the kind of effort that had been long overdue for Johnson, whose father-in-law is Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, known during his career as The Great One. Dustin Johnson achieved his own greatness in golf annals with what he did at the 2016 U.S. Open. In the end, he battled everything and won. This was long overdue for Johnson to win a major.
Photo cred: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
This post was originally published by Knetgolf on June 21, 2016. Knetgolf was acquired by LostGolfBalls.