- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

OAKMONT, Pa. — Dustin Johnson already has shown he can take a punch. He can also take a joke.

Four months ago, he was playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with Jordan Spieth, good friends and complete opposites.

Johnson had nothing but bad luck in the majors. Spieth already had won the Masters and the U.S. Open, which he claimed last year when Johnson three-putted from 12 feet on the final hole at Chambers Bay.

At Pebble Beach, on the par-3 fifth hole, Spieth hit a tee shot that hopped the wrong way into a bunker.

“Man, when am I ever going to catch a break?” he said with a slight grin and a sideways look.

Johnson picked up on it quickly.

“Bro,” he said with a smile, “don’t even go there.”

The breaks finally fell Johnson’s way on Sunday in the U.S. Open at Oakmont, the toughest test on the toughest championship course in the land.

Johnson now has won in each of the nine years he has been on the PGA Tour, the longest active streak among all players. Eventually, someone else would make mistakes and a major would happen for him.

Sure, the three players who tried to chase him on the back nine — Shane Lowry, Scott Piercy and Sergio Garcia — each made at least two bogeys over the last four holes. The debate on Sunday night was whether the biggest mistake belonged to USGA officials.

Johnson’s ball moved as he stepped in for a short par putt on the fifth hole of the final round. He called over his playing partner, Lee Westwood, along with the rules officials, and it was deemed Johnson didn’t cause it to move. There was no penalty and Johnson tapped the ball in for par.

Less than an hour later, a USGA staff member who saw the incident on video thought it was worth another look. The USGA felt it had no choice but to approach Johnson on the 12th tee to ask him what could have caused the ball to move, and then told him to keep in mind that he might get one shot at the end of his round.

Johnson couldn’t help but wonder — “maybe a little bit, for sure,” he said — if he was jinxed.

He was kept out of a playoff in the PGA Championship in 2010 because of a two-shot penalty on the last hole when he grounded his club in sand without realizing it was a bunker at Whistling Straits. He was chasing down Darren Clarke a year later in the British Open when he sliced a 2-iron out of bounds and finished second.

Chambers Bay stung the most. It’s still a mystery why his 5-iron into the 18th green didn’t roll down the slope to three feet instead of leaving him a 12-foot putt on a green as slick as a pane of glass.

“Just one more thing to add to the list, right?” Johnson said.

Instead of wondering what would go wrong, the PGA Tour’s powerful golfer took matters into his own hands.

His decision would suggest the Johnson of old, a guy who didn’t keep his wits about him down the stretch. He chose not to look at a leaderboard the rest of the way. It was just Johnson against the golf course, whether it was the first round or the last, whether he was leading or trailing.

“I tried my best not to look at the leaderboard because no matter where I stood, I was playing the golf course,” he said. “And, I was playing each shot how I was going to play it no matter if I was one back or one head. This golf course, that’s what it demands of you, so that’s what I was trying to do. Just play my game and not worry about what anyone else is doing.”

Staked to a three-shot lead — or maybe it was two, no one was sure — he smashed his driver down the fairway and a 6-iron to a back pin to five feet away.

“Even on the 18th green, after I hit it in there close, I had to ask my brother, ‘Where do we stand?’ I’m pretty sure I was ahead, but I had no idea,” he said.
He made the putt, and his long wait was over.

Ultimately, the U.S. Open won’t be remembered for no one knowing the score. The lasting image is Johnson scooping up his 18-month-old son, cradling the silver trophy. Among the first to greet him as he left the green was Jack Nicklaus, after whom the winner’s gold medal is named.

Nicklaus won the first of his 18 majors in the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 1962.
Oakmont has the strongest list of U.S. Open champions, but for five of them — Nicklaus included — Oakmont was their first.

“It’s definitely a good start,” Johnson said.

The silver trophy was at his side. The smile was wider than ever. Finally, the breaks went his way.

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