Bethpage Black is perfect for the overlooked Dustin Johnson


FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Tiger Woods is the favorite who has been in the headlines for a month. Brooks Koepka is the defending champ with a chip on his shoulder. Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm arrived at Bethpage as the two best players who have never won a major. Somehow, again, Dustin Johnson, the player who enters this week ranked No. 1 on the Official World Golf Ranking, is coming in under the radar. Again.

Maybe that’s because Johnson has not played since the RBC Heritage, a week after he finished tied for second at the Masters. He’s also quiet on the course by nature, shunning fist pumps or histrionics after he hits a good shot. Instead, he maintains an even demeanor that makes it hard to tell whether he’s made three birdies in a row or just three-putted.

If Johnson, 34, were asked to sit down at a drafting table and draw up a course that was perfectly suited for his game, it would look just like Bethpage Black.

“I like the golf course. It sets up well for me,” he said on Tuesday afternoon during his press conference.

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson plays his shot from the 12th tee during a practice round for the PGA Championship. (Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports)

It sets up well because the 7,459-yard A.W. Tillinghast design demands that golfers drive the ball well, and that’s the foundation of Johnson’s game. It’s what won him the U.S. Open in 2016 at Oakmont.

Johnson has finished in the top five in strokes gained off the tee each of the last five seasons. He enters this PGA Championship, his tenth, ranked 11th in that statistical category, but walk up and down the practice range line and you will still see heads turn and watch when Johnson breaks out the big stick.

Driving and ballstriking may be important, but everyone who wants to win a major needs to hole some putts along the way. This season, Johnson has been making more than his share. In fact, as the chart below reveals, Johnson is putting better at this point in the season than he has in six years.

And then there’s the New York crowd, which has always supported Johnson.

“I love the fans up here. They’ve always been really good to me,” he said. “You definitely don’t want to be on their bad side, though, that’s for sure. I’ve always loved coming up here and playing, and fortunately, I don’t know why they like me, but they do, and so I’m going to try to do everything to keep it that way.”

So while the focus may be Tiger and Brooks and Rory, Johnson lurks and lets everyone else enjoy the spotlight. He’s ready to enjoy a drink out of the Wannamaker trophy on Sunday evening.

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