One of Dustin Johnson’s best traits is a short memory, and given some of the misfortune he’s had in the majors, he needs it.
So don’t expect him to return to Royal St. George’s for the British Open this week and remember too much beyond being a runner-up to Darren Clarke in 2011.
“That was a long time ago, but obviously I have good memories here, and I did play well,” Johnson said Wednesday.
Johnson was two shots out of the lead, 3 under over his last seven holes, when he hit a 2-iron on the par-5 14th that sailed out-of-bounds to the right, leading to double bogey. He also bogeyed the last to finish three shots back.
That part is vaguely familiar.
“I had a good opportunity on the back nine there until, what, 14? Take that shot back, yeah, I’ve got a really good chance to win,” he said. “Sunday played really difficult. I played really well, just kind of hit one bad shot. And it pretty much ultimately cost me having a chance to win.
“It was a long time ago, so I don’t remember a whole lot, to be honest.”
Johnson has been runner-up at all four majors, though that was his only chance to win the British Open.
Throw out that performance, and he has averaged finishing 12.75 shots behind the winner on the eight other occasions he made the cut.
Johnson has been in a slump by his standards since winning the Saudi International in early February, his lone victory this year. He has only two top 10s in his last 11 tournaments.
He figures the key to the week will be hitting fairways, which typically is more difficult at Royal St. George’s than other links in the rotation because of so many humps and bumps in the fairway. The course is softer this year because of rain, but the rough is thicker than usual.
“It’s a typical links course. You’ve got to hit golf shots, and you’ve got to hit them where you’re looking or you’re going to have a tough time,” he said. “For me, I feel like most of it’s going to be driving. If I can drive it well, then I feel like I’m going to have a really good week.”
A MAJOR BY ANY OTHER NAME
Phil Mickelson has never shied away from stirring the pot, and as the PGA champion and oldest major winner in history, the 51-year-old was willing to go where few others are during golf’s oldest championship.
He said in a tweet that it’s acceptable to call it the British Open or The Open Championship.
“Every year I come over here, there’s a debate on if it’s the Open or British Open. The Earl of Airlie referred to it as the British Open when awarding Bobby Jones the Claret Jug in 1930 at Hoylake. Both are acceptable,” the tweet said.
At least he capitalized claret jug.
The R&A has made a stronger push in recent years to make sure it is called by its given name as part of a branding campaign.
It’s a sensitive topic in the UK.
The Associated Press has used British Open for more than a century to distinguish between the U.S. Open and other national opens.
Jack Nicklaus, a three-time champion, once said he refers to it as “The Open” only when he’s in the UK. Otherwise, he goes with British Open.
Dustin Johnson kept it simple.
“Well, it was the British Open growing up, for sure, but now I call it The Open Championship,” he said.
Why the change?
“Because that’s the name of it,” he said.
The R&A sent protocols to the players that require them to stay in small bubbles and not visit other players staying in a separate house.
“This would be seen as a breach of the COVID-19 protocols and could lead to withdrawal from the championship,” the R&A wrote in a memo to players.
Does any violation lead to disqualification? R&A chief Martin Slumbers didn’t answer that immediately when asked Wednesday during his annual press conference.
“We’ve made it very clear it is to protect them and their fellow competitors,” Slumbers said. “It’s to give them, all the players, the very best chance of all of them being here on Sunday afternoon and able to play. We have the background of the UK law to deal with, so it’s not us creating the rules, it’s the UK law, and I expect the players to react and deal with that in a professional, responsible way.”
So would a player be disqualified if he breaches the protocols?
“I think he would be at risk of being disqualified, yes,” Slumbers said.
Eventually, he said “at risk” meant it would be decided by Slumbers and the chair of the championship committee.
It’s hard to find anyone who lists Royal St. George’s as a favorite on the British Open rotation, though Dustin Johnson said it was OK to put it No. 2 on his list behind St. Andrews.
As for Darren Clarke, the last Open champion on these English links?
That’s a tricky one, which he answered delicately.
“This golf course offers me one of the best memories I’ve ever had in the game of golf,” Clarke said. “Now, would I prefer to play Royal Portrush every day or Royal St. George’s every day? I’d play Royal Portrush every day. Would I prefer to play St. Andrews or Royal St. George’s? I’d play St. Andrews every day.
“It may not be my favorite course but this course has been very, very good to me.”