Dustin Johnson equipped with a major and confidence
AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- The U.S. Open trophy was on the kitchen table in Dustin Johnson's home in South Florida. That was by design.
"So when I came down the next morning, it was sitting right there," Johnson said Wednesday. "Gave me a smile a little bit."
For all his power, there is a subtle side to Johnson. He never got too down on himself when he was shooting 82 at Pebble Beach or grounding his club in sand without realizing it was a bunker at Whistling Straits. He played golf with friends the day after a three-putt cost him a shot at Chambers Bay.
He sure didn't go over the top when he captured his first major at Oakmont.
How to celebrate? Johnson skipped all the talk shows in New York. He waited until last Wednesday, his 32nd birthday, to head for some solitude in the Bahamas with family and friends, spending time on his boat, in the water and playing a little golf ("a couple holes here and there") at Baker's Bay.
He wasn't seen in public until he showed up on the range Wednesday at Firestone for the Bridgestone Invitational, and even then, he didn't get a lot of work in. Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith stopped by for more than an hour, chatting with Johnson and former U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and taking a few swings with the driver.
If his life has changed, it's mainly finding time to respond to more text messages than he can count. Johnson figures he still has more than 100 messages on his phone, and he intends to respond to all of them.
But first, he has more golf to play.
The Bridgestone Invitational is in a different spot on the calendar because of the Olympics, squeezed in between a pair of majors. It also is opposite the French Open, which angered the European Tour so much that it is not sanctioning this World Golf Championship for the first time and has offered big incentive for players who have skipped Firestone for the French Open.
That put defending champion Shane Lowry in a tough spot. The Irish is on the cusp of qualifying for his first Ryder Cup, but felt he should be at Firestone to defend. Whatever ranking points he earns this week will not count toward the Ryder Cup, leaving him three big events - the Scottish Open, British Open and PGA Championship - to make the team.
Only 61 players are at Firestone, the smallest field since 2001, when this WGC featured a 39-man field of only Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup players.
Johnson might have a little rust, but he is equipped with more confidence than ever.
It was a popular victory, evident by the number of messages he received. Among the most meaningful was from hockey great Wayne Gretzky, his future father-in-law, who told him it was one of the greatest performances he ever saw. "It meant a lot, because he's seen a lot of good things," Johnson said.
And it was popular with his peers, particularly having to play the last seven holes not knowing the score because of an impending USGA ruling, and mainly because of how much heartache Johnson already had endured in the majors.
"He's arguably the most talented golfer in the world. I've been quoted saying that quite a few times," Jordan Spieth said. "It was not a surprise, but personally knowing him and also knowing kind of the experiences to an extent that he's gone through, I thought it was very cool."
Johnson said he had his doubts, normal for someone who's had so many close balls in the majors.
Those appear to have been put to rest.
"I felt like I had it before, but it never worked out," Johnson said. "But now I really know I've got what it takes to get it done. I believed that I had it, but there's always that thing in the back of your head telling you, 'Do you really have what it takes?'"
He watched over the last six years as Rory McIlroy won four majors, Spieth won back-to-back majors last year, Jason Day won his first at the PGA Championship.
Johnson moved up to No. 3 in the world, and he believes he is just getting started.
"I know when I play my best I can beat them," he said. "But can you play your best all the time? The only person that's ever done that for a long period of time is Tiger (Woods) in recent years. But I know Rory and Jason and Jordan, when they play their best, they're going to be very, very difficult to beat, just like when I play my best. It's going to be hard to beat me."