aNewDomain — Before the first ball was struck last Thursday at the Open Championship, people were wondering about the fortunes of a guy named Johnson. The lanky, long-ball hitter was coming off a disappointing second-place finish at the U.S. Open last month and seemed determined to win his first major title.
But the real story at the Old Course at St. Andrews turned out to be about Zach, not Dustin, Johnson. No relation, certainly not when the topic is major championships.
Zach Johnson survived a three-man playoff to win his second major, the first coming at the 2007 Masters. He tied for the low round over the last 18 holes, shooting a 66 in rainy conditions. The tournament finished on a Monday for only the second time in its 144-year history because of rain Friday and strong winds Saturday.
Johnson became the second American winner here in the past decade, joining Phil Mickelson, who raised the Claret Jug in 2013.
“I’m grateful, I’m humbled, I’m thankful. I’m honored, this is the birthplace of the game, and that jug means so much in sports, specifically this tournament and golf. It hasn’t set in yet,” Johnson told ESPN after besting unlikely contender Marc Leishman and 2010 Open winner Louis Oosthuizen in a four-hole playoff.
Watching Johnson play is to witness a master craftsman at work. Not the longest hitter on the PGA Tour – he’s 164th in driving distance – the Iowa native is third in fairways hit, 12th in strokes gained tee to green and, most important, eighth in scoring average.
Dustin Johnson, on the other hand, stumbled to a tie for 49th after shooting 75s in both the third and fourth rounds. Johnson led the event after 36 holes, putting himself into position to forget about his U.S. Open struggles.
Leishman was an unlikely Australian to make a run at the title. While more countrymen Jason Day and Adam Scott get the majority of attention back home, Leishman earned a spot in the playoff after putting together “four really good rounds” as he termed his week in Scotland.
Leishman’s life is in a far better place than it was three months ago when he learned that his wife had only a 5 percent chance of surviving a rare life-threatening bacterial infection.
“I feel like even if I do have a bad day I can still go home and hopefully give my wife a hug and cuddle my two boys,” Leishman said earlier in the week.
Grand Slam hopeful Jordan Spieth stayed in contention throughout, finishing a shot back in a tie for fourth with Day, himself a contender at the U.S. Open before a bout with vertigo derailed his chances on the weekend. Spieth, of course, already won The Masters and U.S. Open this year.
Spieth showed admirable class and perspective after the final round, seeking out Zach Johnson to give him a winner’s hug even as his shot at history faded. Only 21 years old, Spieth appears to have no ceiling to his career. He already has five PGA Tour titles and has pocketed more than $17.3 million in prize money.
The Texan is also the prime pitchman for Under Armour’s golf division. Spieth signed a 10-year contract with the apparel company in January, helping Under Armour has more than doubled its golf-related earnings. The Baltimore-based company got an unlikely boost from amateur Paul Dunne, who competed in the final pairing Monday wearing an Under Armour shirt and undershirt.
As always, we quickly turn the page. Next up on the majors schedule is the PGA Championship in Wisconsin Aug. 13-16. Pretty much the stepchild on the majors schedule, this year’s event has a host of interesting storylines:
*Will World No. 1 Rory McIlroy come back in time from an ankle injury suffered while playing soccer with his pals?
*Can Spieth contend in yet another major, possibly win three of four this year? He was the favorite at 5-1 odds entering Open Championship weekend, according to vegasinsider.com.
*What is Dustin Johnson’s mental state?
*What about Martin Kaymer, who won the last time the event was played at Whistling Straits?
*Can Tiger Woods even make the cut?
Seems like we’re discussing everyone but Zach Johnson. His best finish at the PGA Championship was a tie for third in 2010. Before this weekend, his top showing at the Open was a tie for sixth in 2013.
On a Kohler, Wisconsin course that demands patience and precision, Johnson deserves to be part of the conversation. As the Champion Golfer of the Year, what the British call the winner of their event, who is better at the moment?
Photo of Old Course at St. Andrews courtesy of Nicolesabrina at English Wikivoyage. All rights reserved. Photo of Zach Johnson courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr. All rights reserved. Photo of Martin Kaymer courtesy of Marie-Lan Nguyen, Wikimedia Commons