Dustin Johnson has the slow walk, the bristled jaw and the gunslinger’s eyes of a Sergio Leone bounty hunter.
In the era of the Big Three (or Four) and the social media goodness and light that goes with the Jason Day-Jordan Spieth-Rory McIlroy-Rickie Fowler “narrative”, he’s the man with the black hat who comes sailing through the swing doors of the saloon looking to settle a score.
Death and destruction soon follow and having endured his share of painful gunfights over the past six years, the first victim of Johnson’s hugely impressive three-shot win in the US Open at Oakmont on Sunday was young McIlroy, who has now been relegated to world No 4 by 31-year old Johnson.
The champion’s closing 69 — we’ll get to the one-stroke penalty that denied him a 68 later — owed as much to his strong, silent-type character as his almost insulting superiority with the driver.
He gained 2.4 strokes on the field per round off the tee with that missile down the 72nd hole just one of a series of scorching drives that defined his win and golf’s new era in the days when the USGA and the R&A’s denial of distance gain with the ball has now become a farce.
“To me, this is one of the best weeks I ever drove the ball for sure,” Johnson said.
He has now finished inside the top seven in six of the last eight majors and put to bed those heart-breaking near misses.
In 2010 it was Graeme McDowell who took advantage at Pebble Beach where Johnson went into the final round three clear of the Portrush man but shot an 11-over 82 to end up five strokes adrift.
Later that year, he tied for fifth in the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, where he tapped in to secure a play-off spot alongside Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson only to be told he was being given a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a bunker.
In the 2011 Open at Sandwich he tied for second behind Darren Clarke, hitting a two-iron out of bounds at the par-five 14th as he tried to find the green in two.
His form suffered and amid tales of wild living, he took a six-month sabbatical from the tour in mid-2014 to deal with “personal issues” that he denied a report that said he was suspended by the tour for a third failed drug test, hinting that his problems were drink related.
That didn’t stop the Daily Telegraph running a November 2014 piece entitled “Dustin Johnson: Drugs, affairs, and the silence that shames golf.”
“Heard the one about the top-10 golfer who failed three drug tests in five years, including two for cocaine, while allegedly carrying on liaisons with the wife of at least one fellow tour player? If not, then those PGA Tour mandarins in Florida would prefer to keep it that way. For the name of Dustin Johnson is one that they have, for three months, been seeking desperately to expunge.”
Two months later the magazine that made the drug taking claims got an exclusive interview with Johnson at Sherwood Country Club in LA, where his father-in-law, hockey legend Wayne Gretsky, is a member.
“I did not have a problem,” Johnson told Golf.com. “It’s just something I’m not going to get into. I have issues. But that’s not the issue.”
He added: “I don’t miss waking up with a hangover, and I didn’t drink very often. It was just when I did it was a little too much.”
Johnson and Paulina Gretsky became parents around that time and whether his father-in-law gave him an ultimatum to reform his ways or not, the wild man stories have since faded and Johnson’s golf has taken off despite the continuing disasters in the majors.
Last year, after four years in the wilderness as far as the majors were concerned, he needed a birdie four at the 72nd hole to match Jordan Spieth and force an 18-hole play-off, but three putted from 12-feet to finish one short.
A month later he opened up with rounds of 65 and 68 to lead the Open by one from Danny Willett at St Andrews but shot two 75s to fade from contention.
Last night he finally achieved what it’s been his destiny to achieve since his talent became evident at the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down.
“It's definitely a big monkey off my back,” he said. “You know, coming into today, I've been in this situation time and time again, so I know it what to expect. I know how to handle myself.
“For me to finally get it done on Sunday in a major, it's a huge monkey off my back.”
As for the ruling, which was delayed because Johnson said he hadn’t grounded his club and caused his ball to move when what he really meant was that he hadn’t addressed the ball, the USGA received harsh criticism that seems unjust when they explained things later.
McIlroy and Jordan Spieth were quick to lambast the officials for not deciding Johnson’s fate earlier, but far from trying to fudge, the USGA wanted to give the eventual champion the equivalent of his day in court after the round.
“We wanted to make sure that Dustin had the benefit of a conversation, and we wanted to make sure we got it right,” said Thomas Pagel, the Senior Director of Rules of Golf and Amateur Status for the USGA
“Given the timing of his actions,” the USGA said, “it was more likely than not that Dustin was the cause of the movement.”
Misunderstanding of Rule 18-2 led to great outrage on social media with the USGA adding: ’I think there's some misinformation out there, and I think that a lot of individuals are operating under the belief that a player's not penalised unless there's an absolute certainty that the player was the cause of the movement, and that's simply not the case.”
In reference to the social media complaints from the likes of McIlroy and Spieth, Mr Pagel added: “I think the one think people need to understand is that by no means are we suggesting that Dustin is a liar. I’ve seen that chat out there and that bothers me.”