Dustin Johnson's 2010 U.S. Open a distant memory

Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports

Dustin Johnson's 2010 U.S. Open a distant memory

USGA

Dustin Johnson's 2010 U.S. Open a distant memory

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — It was right there. Seventeen holes away, but definitely in sight.

Dustin Johnson had won the two AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Ams leading up to the 2010 U.S. Open, so at the beginning of the week, he was a heavy favorite. A Saturday 66 gave Johnson, who was just 25, a three-shot lead over Graeme McDowell. He was five shots ahead of Tiger Woods.

Johnson made a two-putt par on the first hole, but then a triple-bogey on the second hole hit Johnson like a haymaker to the jaw. Seventy-one shots later Johnson signed for a nightmarish 82, and instead of winning his first major, he finished tied for eighth.

Johnson, who is now 34, has been a regular at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am since that meltdown in 2010, but this week marks the first time the U.S. Open is returning to Pebble Beach since that time. Once again, he’s a heavy favorite, but during Johnson’s pre-tournament news conference the first question he was asked was not about the state of his game in 2019, it was about his memories of 2010.

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“I remember the golf course. I felt like the setup was fantastic. It played really firm and fast,” he said. “It was a good week. I played really well. First time having a lead in a major, got off to a fairly good start. I hit two shots on the green on one, made a nice two-putt. And hit it right down the middle on two, had a wedge in and it went downhill from there.”

Dustin Johnson watches his tee shot on the 14th hole during the final round of 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. (Photo: Allan Henry/USA TODAY Sports)

Johnson noted that he did not dwell on that loss for long, pointing out that a few months later, at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, he was in contention again. But once again, that tournament slipped away too after Johnson made another blunder. With a one-shot lead playing the final hole, he made a bogey that appeared to put him in a playoff with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer, but it was ruled that Johnson grounded his club in a bunker before hitting his second shot and he received a two-stroke penalty on the final hole.

While Johnson’s power off the tee draws gasps and admiration, and he ranks in the top 20 in strokes gained putting coming into this U.S. Open, his greatest strength in major championships might be his attitude. Things don’t seem to bother DJ, and at a tournament that is designed to test the mental fortitude of players like no other, that’s a great attribute to have.

Asked if he has ever thrown a club in disgust after hitting a bad shot, Johnson said, “I don’t like the way it looks. I don’t like when other people do it, so I was taught at a young age that you don’t do that. So I just never have. I’ve hit plenty of bad shots. So why get mad at it?”

There are a lot of big-name players in the field at this U.S. Open who are coming in hot, including two-time champion Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy, who shot 64-61 last weekend to win the RBC Canadian Open. Tiger Woods, who won his fifth Masters two months ago, will also be a huge factor. Johnson has a game that can stay with any of them.

“I feel really comfortable on these greens, playing here so many times. I feel like I can see the breaks really well,” Johnson said. “And so if I can putt well this week, I feel like I’ll be in contention come Sunday.”

In other words, don’t be surprised if it’s right there again for Dustin Johnson at Pebble Beach.

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