World No1 Dustin Johnson is coming off a missed cut at the Memorial and faces an unknown in the Wisconsin course this weekend.
With this in mind, we ask: Will DJ successfully defend his US Open title at Erin Hills?
Let us know your thoughts as our two writers debate.
JOY CHAKRAVARTY, SAYS YES
Picking a winner in an elite golf tournament is as difficult as finding the proverbial needle in a haystack, unless, of course, you are talking Tiger Woods in the early and mid-2000s.
However, Dustin Johnson has shown almost Woods-like dominance and mind-set in recent months, making a mockery of quality fields and doing well in playing conditions that were thought unsuitable for his kind of golf.
The missed cut at The Memorial last week was surely a blip on what has been a phenomenal run ever since he won his first major at the US Open last year.
In 2017, Johnson has seven top-10s in 11 starts, including three wins. The MC at The Memorial could be a blessing in disguise. He will surely be eager to bounce back from that, and would be slightly more fresh coming into the tournament.
The ultra long Erin Hills course is the biggest unknown in the whole scenario. It is long, and reportedly with penal rough. It also has a bit of a links course-like feel to it. But none of this should bother the world No1. The United States Golf Association have always favoured courses with a similar set-up – narrow fairways, deep rough and fast greens – and Johnson has always managed to find his way around – evident from his performances in the past US Opens.
And given he has a second place and several top-15s in the Open Championship, the ‘linksiness’ of Erin Hills should not be much of a headache either.
Johnson not only hits it long, he also hits is straight most of the time. And his short game is as good as his long game, only under-rated because of the brilliance of his booming drives. However, the most improved aspect of Johnson’s game is his mind. That laid-back nature hides a fierce competitor. His coach Butch Harmon once said his greatest strength is his ability to completely forget his bad shots and good.
That would not only take away any pressure that comes from being the defending champion, but on a US Open golf course, where mistakes are inevitable, give him an extra edge over his other rivals.
DHRUV NAIR, SAYS NO
This year’s US Open will be played at Erin Hills, which hosted the US Amateur in 2011 and also plays to a maximum yardage of 7,800 yards.
Although the World No1 Dustin Johnson won the 2016 US Open and has the ability to smash the ball a long way, which is needed at Erin Hills, it will be tough for him to retain the title.
The main reason is the level of competition he faces, added to the fact that he missed the cut at the Memorial last week and hasn’t been his dominant self ever since he withdrew from the Masters.
My three picks to lift the championship this year are Rickie Fowler, Kevin Kisner and Jon Rahm.
In 10 individual events this season, Fowler has finished in the top-25 eight times. In the last 12 weeks, his average finishing position of 17.6 is second in the US Open field and since February, he’s been outside the Top 20 just once.
But the most remarkable thing about Fowler is on the putting surface. He is currently ranked sixth in strokes gained on the green. He also is in good form, having recently secured a second place at the Memorial, apart from his win at The Honda Classic. I feel it is safe to say Fowler can be considered a serious contender to win.
Kisner has been racking up top finishes all year – six top-10s in 17 events – and he is in red-hot form, having won the Dean & Deluca Invitational and following that up with a T6 at the Memorial. He lacks the distance required at Erin Hills, but will certainly make up for it with driving accuracy, consistent iron play and sharp putting. He’s fifth on Tour in total strokes gained which surely makes him a dark horse.
Jon Rahm, also known as ‘DJ Lite’, has been especially good when he can let it rip, and with an average driving distance of 305 yards, he ranks 12th on Tour in driving distance. The talented 22-year old won the Farmers Insurance Open and has been notching impressive performances all year which makes him another favourite.
Johnson is a definite powerhouse but because of the unbelievable level and pedigree of golfers playing this week, he won’t win.
Golf superstar Tiger Woods was arrested Monday in Florida on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to records from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
The 14-time major champion was booked into the Palm Beach County jail on Monday at 7:18 am (1118 GMT) after he was arrested by police in Jupiter, Florida.
He was released on his own recognizance at 10:50 am according to the documents, with a mugshot posted online showing a tired-looking and unshaven Woods.
Woods was arrested during a traffic stop around 3 am, Kristin Rightler, public information officer of the Jupiter Police Department said.
Further details of the incident were not immediately available.
Woods, 41, hasn’t played competitive golf since pulling out of the Dubai Desert Classic in February after one round because of back pain.
He had spinal fusion surgery on April 20 — his fourth surgery in three years to treat his troublesome back which has limited him to three tournament starts worldwide in the past two years.
Woods wrote on his website last week that since his latest procedure he was feeling better than he had in years and remained committed to returning to competitive golf.
As Si Woo Kim walked purposefully towards the 17th tee of TPC Sawgrass during Sunday’s final round of the Players Championship, I was reminded of the opening lines from ‘Casabianca’: “The boy stood on the burning deck, whence all but he had fled…”
There could not have been a more apt description of what the 21-year-old South Korean did than Felicia Dorothea Hemans’ famous poem about the 12-year-old boy who withstood a fierce attack from Lord Nelson’s fleet in the Battle of Nile. However, unlike Casabianca, who set ablaze L’Orient in the end and died along with it so that the British forces did not get hold of the French naval flagship, Kim’s story had a much happier ending.
It really was a virtuoso performance from Kim, who became only the second Asian player to win the Players Championship (after KJ Choi in 2011), and also the youngest ever (Adam Scott was 23 when he won in 2004).
There has been a lot of talk as to how someone so young and relatively inexperienced, and someone who had not been playing even half-decent golf in the lead-up to the tournament, could master a course as tough as the TPC Sawgrass.
Kim, after all, was ranked 75th in the world at the start of the week, and in 13 starts this year, missed the cut in five tournaments and withdrew in three because of back issues.
But let’s not forget this is a guy who has already won on the PGA Tour – the Wyndham Championship last year – and he came through the Qualifying School aged just 17. In fact, because of the Tour regulations, he could not start playing until he turned 18, effectively wasting his card and a fine effort in qualifying. If his ball-striking was impressive the first three days, his ability to scramble on the Sunday was jaw-dropping. Despite missing as many as 10 greens in regulation in his round, he managed to finish with a 100 per cent scrambling record. As wind picked up and the course became firm, making birdies was never going to decide the title; but avoiding bogeys and higher numbers was the key.
Henrik Stenson won the tournament in 2009, shooting a phenomenal 66 in the final round.
He still reckons that was one of the best rounds of golf he ever played. Speaking to me earlier this year, he said: “By Sundays, Sawgrass becomes rock hard. And if you have a bit of wind, God help you. I played so well for my 66… on any other course, it would have been close to 60. Of course, I remember the birdies, but it was the bogeys that I did not make that helped.”
There were only two players in the field who shot better than Kim’s 69 (both 68s), while a number of big names fell by the wayside with big numbers. Overnight joint leader JB Holmes shot an 84, while defending champion Jason Day (r) and Justin Rose settled for 80s.
It will be interesting to see where Kim goes from here. However, there is one thing that is definitely going to slow down his career – the mandatory military service in South Korea. Kim says he is ready for it, but a period of at least 21 months away from the sport would definitely be a telling blow.
New on Asian Tour
The recently announced Panasonic Swing on the Asian Tour is another great step forward for the Tour.
The Japanese electronic giants are involved as sponsors of four events on the Asian Tour, and players who do well in the four tournaments will now play for a bonus pool based on their finishes.
The top-three players will share $150,000, with the winner netting $70,000.
While this may not compare to the $35 million FedEx Cup pool for the top-125 players on the PGA Tour, and the $5 million Race to Dubai pool on the European Tour for the top-10, it is a start nevertheless, and hopefully, it will grow into something big in the future.