News & Opinion

Dustin Johnson proves Brooks Koepka to be prophetic

Dustin Johnson 2020 PGA Championship final round
Dustin Johnson, with his caddie/brother Austin, finds that elusive 2nd major title to be just out of reach once again.

Yes, Johnson had won only 1 major title entering the 102nd PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, as Koepka reminded him, and nothing has changed after another near-miss on a big Sunday

Is it possible that Dustin Johnson is a one-and-done major champion?

Collin Morikawa, a 23-year-old Californian, took control of a crowded leaderboard Sunday in the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. It was a charge that Johnson, as the 54-hole leader, could have been expected to make as a 21-time winner on the PGA Tour.

Instead Johnson’s inability to win a second major championship came into specific relief after Sunday’s failure to win for the fourth time holding the lead after 54 holes in a major.

Doubts, unlike major championships, continue to pile up for Johnson. At 36, he is finding that the opportunities are starting to wane as the next generation of talent takes over on the PGA Tour.

Brooks Koepka, who was the two-time defending PGA champion at TPC Harding Park, called out Johnson after the third round for his lone major title, the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont. That dig proved to be prophetic. With Morikawa’s victory virtually sealed late Sunday, Johnson proceeded to birdie two of the final three holes and shoot 2-under 68 for a share of second place (scores).

It was his second consecutive runner-up in the PGA and his fifth second-place finish in golf’s majors, including three of the past five dating to the 2019 Masters. In 43 major championships, Johnson has logged 17 top 10s and the aforementioned victory.

In failing to win at Harding Park, Johnson seemed to let the contenders – 16 players were within four strokes of his lead to start the day – come after him. If he was thinking that he merely had to hold serve to win, the 2-under closing score debunked that myth.

Instead, the leaderboard was chocked full of final-round mid-60 scores, paced by Morikawa’s sterling 64 (and matched by also-rans Byeong Hun An and Ryan Palmer). Johnson was stuck in the mud of another final round in a major.

It wasn’t as if Johnson played poorly on Sunday, as he had in other majors when leading going into the final round. It was that he either misjudged the field’s resolve or the scoring opportunities on a course that played its easiest of the four days.

When three-time major winner Jordan Spieth finished his final round early in the afternoon, he said that a 30 on the back nine was possible. Morikawa shot 31 on the back and would have made Spieth’s number if his putt on the 18th hole didn’t slide past the low side.

While it’s easy to second-guess Johnson’s game plan after it failed, it’s all we have because Johnson didn’t answer questions afterward.

Instead, he hustled off to the airport and his private jet.

This loss has to sting him and make him ponder what he needs to do differently to win that elusive second major title.

The question regarding whether it’s harder to win a first or second major championship can be asked only of those who have won one of golf’s biggest prizes. For Johnson, who avenged a shocking three-putt collapse on the 72nd hole of the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay by winning the next year’s Open, that’s no easy answer.

Learning from losing is a big part of professional golf. Even Tiger Woods has lost far more tournaments than he has won.

Johnson will have two more chances at major titles this year, beginning with next month’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Before he heads to New York, though, he will need to reflect on what went wrong Sunday. Otherwise, Koepka’s jab will continue to prove true.

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