Golf | Ryder Cup

Johnson playing to the home crowd in Ryder Cup

ablondin@thesunnews.comSeptember 26, 2012 

— Elite international team competition is not foreign to Dustin Johnson. He has played in three of the marquee events.

Yet at the same time, it has been entirely foreign.

Johnson has played in a Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and amateur Walker Cup, and has yet to play on American soil.

The groundswell of American spirit is something he’s experiencing this week at Medinah Country Club for the first time, and he hopes it will make a difference in his game and the U.S. team’s performance in the 39th Ryder Cup.

“I’ve played them all so far overseas, so for me it’s really cool to play on U.S. turf for the first time,” said Johnson, who along with his teammates donned red pants for Wednesday’s practice sessions. “There was tons of fans out there, and they were screaming “U.S.A.” the whole time, so it’s just really nice to play in front of hometown fans.”

Johnson is yet to record a winning record as an individual in international team matches.

He went 1-3 in 2010 at Celtic Manor Resort in Wales, where Europe won by just one point to win its sixth cup in the past eight competitions.

Johnson teamed with friend Phil Mickelson in both foursome and fourball matches on the opening day and fell 3 and 2 to Lee Westwood and partner Martin Kaymer, and 3 and 2 to Padraig Harrington and Ross Fisher. Johnson and Jim Furyk lost in fourball 2 and 1 to Harrington and Ian Poulter on the second day before the former Myrtle Beach resident beat Kaymer 6 and 4 in Sunday singles.

Johnson didn’t fare much better last year at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia, where he went 1-3-1 for the victorious Americans. He and Matt Kuchar rallied from three holes down with seven to play to halve a match with Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley. Johnson went 1-2 in three team matches with Tiger Woods, and lost 2 and 1 to Charl Schwartzel in singles.

“We’re going to do better than that,” Johnson prophesied. “I can’t really guarantee anything, but I’d like to say we’re going to do better.”

In the 2007 Walker Cup pitting the top amateurs from the U.S. against those from Great Britain and Ireland at Royal County Down Golf Club in Northern Ireland, Johnson went 1-1-1 – all in team matches – to help the U.S. retain the cup and win for the first time away from home in 16 years.

That was Johnson’s introduction to the international team concept, which is something he’s become fond of.

“Every week that we go out and play tournaments, you’re always playing for yourself and the people you represent, whether it’s your club company or some sponsors. But ultimately you’re playing for you,” Johnson said. “And coming to a Ryder Cup, you’re not just playing for yourself; you’re playing for the whole country. You’re playing for Team U.S.A., you’re playing for all the guys on your team, you’re playing for all the fans. It’s not all about you. It’s a totally different feeling. It’s a good feeling.”

U.S. team captain Davis Love III has set the 7,658-yard course up long and open, which suits Johnson’s ability to bomb it off the tee. Love referenced Johnson’s compatibility with the course when he selected him as one of his four captain’s picks on Sept. 4. Johnson leads the PGA Tour in par-5 birdie percentage in 2012.

“I like the way they’ve got the rough cut down, which is nice,” Johnson said. “We’re not hacking out of deep rough if you hit it in there. You’ve got a chance to advance it onto the green. I mean, it’s good. It’s right in front of you, the golf course.

“… Especially in a team event like this, nobody wants to go watch people hacking it out of the rough and grinding for pars. The fans want to see birdies and eagles. I think that’s what it’s all about is make it exciting, make it fun. You know, I think that’s what we’re trying to do is set the course up to where it’s a lot of fun to play, where we’re not out there grinding for pars on every hole.”

Johnson will be without his trusted protégé in caddie Bobby Brown, who Johnson said has a herniated disk and won’t be able to participate this week. Brown was unable to caddie for the final 2 1/2 rounds at last week’s Tour Championship because of the injury.

“I know he really wants to caddie, and I want him to caddie too, but it’s not worth it to caddie if he’s hurt,” Johnson said.

Love’s regular caddie, Jeff Weber, will accompany Johnson in matches. Johnson said Sunday at the conclusion of the Tour Championship that three possible replacements were longtime tour caddie Tony Navarro, Hunter Mahan’s caddie John Wood, or TaylorMade executive Keith Sbarbaro, who caddied for Johnson at last year’s Presidents Cup and three other times overseas last year. But Weber was already part of Team U.S.A. as the assistant caddie captain.

“You know, it’s a team, and we filled in, and it’s good to have extra people around,” Love said. “That’s one thing we learned from former captains is having an assistant captain for the caddies, having a backup guy to help you with the logistics.”

Johnson had a suggestion to Love regarding a possible playing partner in team matches Friday and Saturday.

“Me and Kuch (Matt Kuchar), that could be a team,” Johnson said. “We played at the Presidents Cup and we like playing with each other. . . . But I’m happy to play with anybody, it doesn’t matter. I get along with everybody, and I think the key to playing good in a Ryder Cup is getting along with your teammate.”

Love claimed Wednesday he’s still tinkering with team pairings. For Kuchar’s part, he would welcome a pairing with Johnson. “I’d definitely be excited to play with Dustin, but there’s a long list of players I’d be excited to play with,” Kuchar said.

Whoever he’s paired with, Johnson is ready for the intenseness and fun the Ryder Cup promises, particularly this year in front of the home crowd.

“It’s so much fun,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to explain the Ryder Cup and the atmosphere, the camaraderie in the team room and stuff like that. It’s a lot of fun hanging out with the guys all week and its memories you’ll never forget.”

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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