KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – This is like a home game for Dustin Johnson.
He relishes playing the PGA Championship in his home state, with a large contingent of South Carolina family and friends following him at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.
Johnson, who opened with a 1-under-par 71, is looking to give himself another chance to break through and win his first major after a few close calls over the last three seasons. Johnson, 28, has won more PGA Tour titles (six) than any player in his 20s.
“I’ve got a good crowd out there following me and cheering for me,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot of fun. Hopefully, I can play well the rest of the week and give them something to cheer about.”
Two years ago, Johnson had a one-shot lead going to the final hole of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. That’s where he was famously penalized two shots for grounding his club in a bunker that he did not know was a bunker. He missed a playoff by a shot. Earlier that summer, he held a three-shot lead going into the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach but stumbled with a final-round 82. Last year, Johnson was in the final Sunday pairing at the British Open at Royal St. George’s, and went on to finish T-2.
While Johnson may feel as if he’s playing a home game this week, he doesn’t feel like he’s playing on his “home field.” Though Johnson grew up in Columbia, S.C., and played at Coastal Carolina University, he said he has only played the Ocean Course twice.
“A long time ago, I can’t even remember,” Johnson said.
That doesn’t mean Johnson doesn’t feel like there’s a built-in advantage benefitting him at Kiawah Island.
“The longer hitters – me, Rory [McIlroy] and Gary [Woodland] – if we drive the ball well on this course, it's going to set up for us,” Johnson said. “It really is. If we drive it straight, we will have a lot of short irons in, and we can reach all the par-5s. It’s a definite advantage.”
After the morning wave, Johnson led the field in driving distance, averaging 322 yards per drive. Johnson is hoping that will give him yet another chance to win a major.