If conventional wisdom holds true and a professional golfer’s greatness is judged, above all else, by the major championships he has won, then Dustin Johnson is currently destined to be remembered as merely very good.
Like Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis, Dave Marr, Charles Coody and many others before him, the current world No.1 has one major title his name, courtesy of his 2016 US Open win at Oakmont.
Many fabulous golfers have gone their entire careers without ever winning one of golf’s big four. However, when you consider everything else that Johnson has achieved to date, you can’t help but arrive at one conclusion: in the events that really matter, he has under-performed.
Consider the facts. Since his rookie season in 2008, DJ has won 19 times on the PGA Tour – that’s more than any other player in the same period.
He has won at least once every season on the PGA Tour since that first year.
Only four players – Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Rory McIlroy – have spent longer at the top of the world rankings than DJ.
Likewise, there are only four players ahead of him on the PGA Tour career money list and only Tiger Woods has won more World Golf Championships.
He is, quite simply, one of the best players of his generation. And yet he lacks where it matters most: major victories.
Rory has four. Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka (pictured above with DJ) have three apiece, and that’s despite both turning pro five years after DJ.
How is it possible that one of the best players in the game, somebody who has pieced together the career Johnson has, has underperformed so significantly on the game’s biggest stages?
The numbers make for alarming reading. Johnson’s career stroke average in regular PGA Tour events – not counting matchplay competitions and unofficial events – is 70.2. In the majors, it’s 71. Not a particularly significant number but one worth noting all the same.
Of greater consequence is the fact that he is a combined 49-over-par for the 138 major rounds he has played, with a tournament average score of +1.3. That’s as compared with Spieth, who is 36-under-par for his 88 major rounds, with a tournament average score of -1.5, whilst Rory is a combined seven-under for his 144 major rounds (avg score of -0.175).
There is a suggestion that Johnson isn’t a particularly good closer. The stats back that up. He is 26-over for the 31 final rounds he has played in majors. That’s three strokes worse than he is for the first three rounds combined. He has broken 70 only seven times in 31 final rounds and has never done so in the Open.
Since 2011, no player has been inside the top ten of a major championship after 36 holes more often than DJ and, at this year’s US Open, he became the seventh player in history to hold a halfway lead of four or more shots. Five of the previous six went on to win. DJ finished third.
He has held at least a share of the lead at the end of a round ten different times at a major. He has had the 36-hole lead three times and the 54-hole lead twice. On the two occasions that he’s led after two rounds, he’s gone on to finish in a tie for eighth (2010 US Open) and third (2018 US Open).
Interestingly, he has never had a major championship where he has carded all four rounds in the 60s. Rory has done so twice (2011 US Open, 2014 US PGA) and Spieth once (2017 Open).
So, what’s the problem? You would have to think that mental scar tissue is certainly part of it. Who can forget his implosion at the 2010 US Open where, leading by three going into the final round, he tumbled to an 82 in the final round after playing his first three holes in five-over?
Then there was his post-round two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a waste area at the 2010 US PGA, pictured above – a penalty that dropped him out of a play-off for the title and into a tie for fifth.
Or what about his near shank down the stretch at the 2011 Open? Trying to apply some pressure to leader (and eventual winner) Darren Clarke, Johnson sent his second shot at the 14th sailing out of bounds, leading to a challenge-ending double-bogey.
He had an eagle putt on the 72nd hole to win the 2015 US Open. He missed both that and the resulting birdie putt, handing victory to Spieth.
Name all the things you can think of that can conspire to cost you major glory; there’s a good chance they’ve happened to DJ.
He is fast becoming this generation’s Greg Norman: more naturally gifted than just about every one of his peers but unable to make it count when it counts the most.
‘Snakebit’, in other words.
And now for the really concerning stuff.
Dustin Johnson turned 34 in June. He is, by two years, older than Tiger was when he won the most recent of his 14 majors at the 2008 US Open. The average age of major winners in the intervening period is 31. Twenty-six of the 42 major championships staged in that span – and 14 of the last 19 – have been won by players younger than Johnson is now.
As the top players get older, the game appears to keep getting younger.
Of course, as many have noted, it’s hard to win one major, far less multiple. In the last decade, only six golfers have on golf’s grandest stages more than once: McIlroy (4), Spieth (3), Koepka (3), Padraig Harrington (2), Phil Mickelson (2) and Martin Kaymer (2).
Would anybody contend that Dustin Johnson wouldn’t look out of place in that company, particularly in the context of everything else he has achieved? Is his name not, in fact, even more notable by its absence?
It seems crazy (perhaps even is crazy) to criticise a guy who has done the things Johnson has done.
Be that as it may, in order to be considered one of the greats of his generation never mind of all time, he needs to add at least two or three more majors to his name before his career is through.
If he’s looking for encouragement, he could do worse than look to Phil Mickelson. The left-hander was 33 when he finally snagged his first major championship at the 47th time of asking. He’s now a five-time winner.
Up to that point, Mickelson was considered the best golfer never to have won a major.
There’s a very legitimate case to be made for DJ being the best - and comfortably the best - to have only won one.
Which is very good.
Just not ‘great’.