DJ sporting major swag after breakthrough

By Will GrayJune 29, 2016, 11:07 pm

AKRON, Ohio – On the surface, he’s still the same guy. Still sports the same languid swing, the easygoing nature.

But the Dustin Johnson who strode to the podium Wednesday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational is a little different from the guy who golf fans have recognized over the years. It’s the type of intangible shift that only a major title can bring.

After offering answers for years about what went wrong, or what needs to change, or when he’ll finally get over the finish line, Johnson closed the deal two weeks ago at the U.S. Open. Now it’s no longer a litany of tough questions, but instead queries about how he chose to celebrate his major breakthrough.

“I mean, I’ve been up here a lot talking about what happened and why I didn’t win,” Johnson said. “So it was definitely nice to win one and get to talk about it.”

Ask around, and the consensus is clear: if anything, Johnson was overdue. His ability was never in doubt, and most believed the major title that kept eluding him would someday be his.

“As I’ve mentioned many times, any time I’ve been asked about Dustin, I’ve said it’s a matter of time,” said Jordan Spieth. “He’s arguably the most talented golfer in the world.”

And yet, for all that talent, Johnson stood a month ago at age 31 largely embodied by the ones that got away. There was Chambers Bay last year, and Whistling Straits, and even Pebble Beach before that.

Johnson remained confident, sure. But the mind can only take so much before that tiniest speck of doubt begins to grow.

“It was something that, I believed that I had it, but there’s always that thing in the back of your head telling you, ‘Do you really have what it takes?’” Johnson said. “There’s definitely something that was in there that was wondering if I could really get it done.”

But with one emphatic final round – arguably against the best efforts of the USGA – Johnson put all of that doubt to rest.

WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

It led to the kind of mental sigh that we have seen in recent years from Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Jason Day. Promise has translated into hardware, and now Johnson is in a sense liberated.

“I mean, now I know I’ve got it for sure. I felt like I had it before, but it never worked out,” Johnson said. “But now I really know I’ve got what it takes to get it done. I think that’s kind of – that’s definitely a very good thing to have.”

Whenever a player of Johnson’s stature breaks through, the “floodgate” question is quick to follow. Some point to the example of Phil Mickelson, who won his first major at age 33 and added four more to his collection, and wonder how many Johnson can snatch up.

Of course, it was a similar reaction to major wins from Scott and Rose, both of whom are still looking for trophy No. 2 some three years later.

Johnson, though, may have an even stronger skillset than either of those two elite players, and for his part he is not backing down from any discussion centered on how he stacks up against the game’s best, having disrupted the “Big Three” that dominated the world rankings for the first half of the year.

“I think I’ve proved myself over the past three years that I’m definitely a contender,” he said. “Obviously once I finally got that major victory, I definitely think it puts me into the conversation.”

Johnson’s win may have received more credit among his peers simply for all that he had to endure – both prior to Oakmont and during the final round. His near-misses at the 2010 PGA Championship and last year’s U.S. Open were among the most painful losses by any player in recent years, and Johnson appeared headed for another controversial close call when a USGA official put his hand on Johnson’s shoulder with seven holes to play.

The penalty heard ‘round the world elicited plenty of discussion, but it didn’t slow down Johnson’s quest.

“Personally, knowing him and also knowing kind of the experiences to an extent that he’s gone through, I thought it was very cool,” Spieth said. “I thought it was extremely special given everything that’s been hanging over him. That wasn’t easy, and he stepped up.”

Johnson won’t be able to add to his major title collection this week at Firestone, but two more enticing opportunities loom in the coming weeks. It’s an effort that will be aided by a jolt of newfound confidence and belief, having finally gleaned a win from years of potential.

“The first one is definitely the hardest. Well, it was for me,” he said. “Now that I know that, I’ve just got to keep putting myself in position to have a chance to win on the back nine on Sundays. I mean, yeah, I think it’s the beginning.”

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.