Johnson prepared for very special title defense
ERIN, Wis. – FedExCup leader and defending U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson was asked if his prodigious length and status as World No. 1 would intimidate his rivals this week at Erin Hills. “I hope so. Shouldn't it?” he said with a smile. It probably should. But privately some of his rivals are feeling better about their chances against the man who has won six times in the last 12 months on the PGA TOUR including his breakthrough at Oakmont, three World Golf Championship events and a FedExCup Playoff event. Why? Because Johnson arrived late to Erin Hills this week due to the birth of his second son, a healthy baby boy and brother to Tatum named River Jones Johnson. Perhaps his mind might be elsewhere? “It helps that Paulina and my son, they're at home now,” Johnson said. “She's a lot more comfortable and everybody is healthy. Obviously I don't have to worry about them. Obviously that's a big relief, not having to worry about them. “But now I've got to play golf. This is why I'm here. I'm here to play golf. I'm here to compete. So that's what my job is this week.” Johnson went one further saying being a dad was a help to his game and has made him a better player. “It’s been great. It just gives you a whole new perspective on things, where before kind of golf was the most important and now my family is the most important,” he said. “At the end of the day whether I'm having a good day or bad day, when I either see my family or talk to them, whatever, if I was upset or even if I was happy with the way I played, none of that matters. Just I'm always happy and excited to be with them.” Maybe the confidence of others comes because Johnson just missed the cut at the Memorial Tournament, his last start. He shot 78-74. “It actually worked out pretty well that I missed the cut the Memorial, even though I didn't want to,” Johnson said. “I came up here and got to practice for two days. So it definitely helped with my preparation coming in because I knew I wasn't going to get here until Tuesday afternoon. “Even though I came in late I didn't feel like I was behind the eight ball at all because I got to prepare ten days ago or so.” Perhaps some feel a new venue with lots of blind spots off the tees may pose a problem. Some still suggest his pairing with brother and caddie Austin could be a detriment in these situations. “My brother was here with me, but I did have one of the local guys,” Johnson said of his decision to get help from a local caddie on his earlier reconnaissance mission. “Obviously, it was kind of good for the first time around to have one just to - on a few holes, you need to know where to hit it. And if you haven't played here before it definitely helps if someone knows the course. It was definitely helpful in trying to figure out some lines off the tees.” And now what about the factors playing into Johnson’s favor. Like the storms and rain that has softened up the lengthy Erin Hills allowing him to bomb away. It will certainly help him as he looks to be the first to defend the U.S. Open since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989. “I think it sets up very well for me,” he said modestly while revealing the longest iron he needs to hit into greens has a 5 on it. “I hit a lot of drivers. If they play it all the way back, I'll hit a lot of drivers. And it depends on the wind, too. There's only a couple of holes where I might not hit a driver. But for the most part I can hit a driver on just about every hole. “I'm excited to come back and defend this week. The game feels like it's in really good shape. I've been working really hard at it the last couple of days. I feel like I'm prepared, I feel like I'm ready.” To those not intimidated… perhaps you should rethink.
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