BROKEN ARROW, Okla. – After celebrating on stage, posing for photos and meeting with the media following his victory Sunday evening at LIV Golf Tulsa, Dustin Johnson was anxious to jump on a plane as quick as possible and fly to upstate New York for this week’s PGA Championship.
When showing the kind of form that can win majors, it certainly behooved the 4Aces GC captain to get familiar with the Oak Hill East Course as soon as possible – especially since Johnson has not seen it since 2013 when it last hosted the PGA. He tied for eighth that week, posting the second-lowest score in the field for the final two rounds. Since then, the course has undergone significant renovations.
Teammate Patrick Reed had already made a reconnaissance trip to Oak Hill the previous weekend, reporting back that the “rough is really deep.” Johnson was curious to see it for himself.
Yet, he wasn’t about to leave the Oklahoma faithful hanging. Despite a two-hour weather delay in the middle of Sunday’s final round that closed the course and forced all those on site to shelter from the lightning storm, an impressive number of fans stayed at Cedar Ridge and were ultimately rewarded with a thrilling finish, with Johnson beating Ripper GC Captain Cameron Smith and Stinger GC’s Branden Grace with a birdie putt from the fringe on the first playoff hole.
Now, several fans were waiting for his autograph – and DJ obliged, even with his scheduled takeoff looming. “Really pleased with the turnout and the vibe out here this week,” he said. The numbers backed him up, as LIV Golf Tulsa produced the largest attendance for any LIV Golf event held thus far in the United States.
The vibe is also good for Johnson this week as he chases the third leg of a career grand slam, having already won the U.S. Open (2016) and Masters (2020). He not only heads to Oak Hill with plenty of momentum but also plenty of confidence from the victory – his first of the season, second in his LIV Golf career and 30th of his professional career.
He had started the year in less-than-ideal form due to a minor back problem that forced him to withdraw before his first scheduled start at the Saudi International. In the LIV Golf League season opener at Mayakoba, he was a non-factor, tying for 35th, his worst finish in any LIV event. Even more shocking for last year’s Individual Champion was his final-round 7-over 78, the second-worst score of the day at El Camaleon.
He followed by opening with a 1-over 72 at LIV Golf Tucson. Since then, though, he’s settled into a more productive rhythm and has produced 14 consecutive rounds under par, setting a new LIV record.
Still, until Tulsa, he struggled to contend. His positions through 36 holes: 27th in Tucson, 14th in Orlando, 13th in Adelaide and 14th in Singapore. His best points result through the first five events was a seventh in Orlando, and he ranked 20th in the season-long points race. That was the worst position among the 4Aces. Yet he didn’t get discouraged.
“I started to see a lot of good things starting in Australia,” he said. “I played much better than my scores in Australia and Singapore. Just every time I made a mistake, it was really costly, or I was just missing momentum putts, the 5-6 footers for par that keep your round going. Just wasn’t scoring well. But I knew it was coming.”
Tee-to-green hasn’t been the issue, as he entered Tulsa second in the League in driving distance, 18th in fairways hit and tied for sixth in greens in regulation. But he was tied for 36th in putting average. A return to an old putter – the one he used last season – paid big dividends at Cedar Ridge, as he ranked first in the field in putting. It proved to be the difference-maker, as he rolled in mid-range birdie putts on the final hole in regulation to make the playoff, then the winner on the same par-4 18th a few minutes later in the playoff.
“I’ve been hitting good putts; they just weren’t going in,” Johnson said. “I knew things would eventually start to turn around. Just had to keep grinding.”
The Tulsa win confirms his status as one of the favorites this week. Of the 17 LIV Golf League members in the field at Oak Hill, only Smash GC Captain Brooks Koepka has better odds to win. Plus, Johnson has enjoyed plenty of success in the Northeast – three wins in New York, two wins in Massachusetts (including his LIV Golf Boston victory last year), and one win in Connecticut. And he has three top-6 finishes in majors played in New York, including runner-up to Brooks Koepka at the 2019 PGA at Bethpage Black.
Johnson isn’t offering any guarantees, but he certainly likes his chances.
“Obviously, it’s a really good golf course. It’s going to be tough,” Johnson said. “I like tough courses.”