As U.S. Open approaches, Johnson relives '07 Am
MUIRFIELD VILLAGE, Ohio – Dustin Johnson’s return to the PGA Tour after being sidelined for more than two months with a back injury has re-introduced more than the birdies and bogeys.
It also puts him back in front of the media and that, in turn, prompted Johnson to reminisce about the 2007 U.S. Amateur. The connection, of course, is that the upcoming U.S. Open will be held at The Olympic Club, which staged that U.S. Amateur five years ago.
“Small greens and they were firm,” Johnson said in a pre-Memorial Tournament press conference. “And it’s kind of hard to hit the fairways out there.”
Give him a gold star for nailing that assessment, because that defines The Olympic Club’s Lake Course. But when it comes to how he performed out there, the years have apparently knocked Johnson’s recollections out of focus.
He remembers playing “well in the stroke play,” and that’s not too far off base. Johnson shot 72 on the Lakes Course, 70 at the Ocean Course; decent scores, but that only gave him a share of 39th place. It’s the match-play portion where his memory is shaky. Asked how he did, he thought he lost in the second round, but it was actually the first.
“Who beat you?”
“I have no idea,” Johnson said.
“Do you think the guy who beat you remembers who he beat?”
“I’m sure,” Johnson said, laughing. “I’m sure he does.”
Let the record show, Johnson is correct on that front, because back home in Maine, Ricky Jones remains a bit of a legend for what he did at The Olympic Club. In fact, “I hear about it just about all the time,” he said with a laugh.
A 40-year-old controller with a cement manufacturing company in Thomaston, Maine, Jones cherishes the memory of his first-round upset of Johnson at the U.S. Amateur. But even after having shot 70-70 to finish T-14, Jones wasn’t exactly the talk of the Bay Area. He remembers, in fact, that he was standing near the scoreboard, watching the names as competition for the 64 qualifiers took place, and thinking he was likely to play “someone who is already on the Walker Cup team.”
Webb Simpson was a possibility, or a handful of others – Chris Kirk, Billy Horschel, Jamie Lovemark or Kyle Stanley. Next thing he knew, Jones stood next to his mother and realized he was going to draw Johnson.
“Who’s that?” his mother asked.
“Currently the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, that’s all,” Jones said.
While Johnson probably doesn’t remember a lot about that match, Jones most certainly does. He recalls it being a back-and-forth affair, because it wasn’t until the 16th that a hole was halved. Johnson was 2 up through six, but Jones won four in a row to go 2 up.
Johnson won the next two holes, but Jones took the 13th and 14th to go 2 up, and Johnson sliced the deficit in half when he won the 15th. Halves at 16 and 17 brought the match to the final hole, the infamous short, but severely uphill par 4 with the back-to-front sloping green.
It produced a memory that is forever etched in Jones’ mind.
“I hit a 4-iron off the tee and Dustin was about 10 years ahead of me. I hit a 9-iron from about 140 yards and all we could see up at the green were a bunch of people standing on the hill. Next thing I knew, they were cheering. I asked my caddie, ‘Did that go in?’ And he said, ‘I think so.’”
It didn’t, but it was only an inch from the hole, so when Johnson hit his shot to 8 feet and walked to the green to see Jones’ ball, the match was over. The matching birdies were conceded and Jones had a 1-up stunner in his back pocket. Now the folks back in Maine may not have realized the magnitude of the upset – after all, Jones is good enough to have won two Maine Amateurs and a Maine Open – but the former University of Maine golfer sure did.
“When I first got back home and I’d tell them that Dustin outdrove me by 40 yards, they all said, ‘He can’t out-hit you by 40 yards.’ Then Dustin got on the PGA Tour and I’d point out his statistics and say, ‘See, look at how he hits it,” said Jones, who would get ousted by George Zahringer, 2 up, the next day.
“But it’s a great memory. I remember it all the time. When I get under pressure, I try to bring up that memory (of the 18th hole), to calm me down.”
Johnson has no such memory, but no worries. He’s in a perpetual state of calm.