In the practice days leading up to the start of this week’s US Open, Dustin Johnson didn’t consider 62 as a possible score at Los Angeles Country Club.
But when he started his first round Thursday, a pair of tournament record-setting eight-under 62s were already on the board, courtesy of Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele.
Johnson didn’t adjust his mindset to be more aggressive. He looked at the next lowest scores in the morning — a few 67s, including one from fellow LIV Golfer Bryson DeChambeau — and opted not to chase the outlier 62s.
The decision to stay within his game plan paid off, as the 4 Aces captain shot a six-under 64 to gain a share of third place after the first round.
“Obviously the guys went out this morning and you could tell the greens were a little bit more receptive than they have been,” Johnson said. “It seems like it was two eight-unders and then the next one was a three.
“The course isn’t really that gettable, obviously. If you play well and hit it in the right spots and you can be aggressive, you get a few wedges in your hand, but you’ve still got to hit a really good golf shot if you want to get it close to the hole.
“Today obviously with the set-up, it was definitely somewhat gettable if you drove it really well. “
Johnson indeed drove it very well, hitting all 13 fairways. Starting on the 10th hole, Johnson was two-under at the turn, then turned on the jets on his final nine, with five birdies in the next eight holes.
His only bogey of the day came on the last hole, the par-3 ninth, when he pulled his 5-iron and missed the green, then couldn’t save par from 12 feet, as his putt lipped out.
“Hit a nice putt,” Johnson said. “It was a little rude that that one didn’t go in, but obviously I swung it really nicely today and hit a lot of good shots.”
It was definitely the kind of start Johnson was looking for as he chases his second US Open title and third major. He hasn’t been a factor in the first two majors of 2023 but his game has been trending in the right direction after a slow start due to injury, the win at LIV Golf Tulsa confirming that he’s back in winning form.
“I had a great practice leading into [Thursday],” Johnson said. “I’ve been playing pretty solid. Obviously won in Tulsa a few weeks ago … and obviously I feel really comfortable over the golf ball right now.”
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 15, 2023
Count his opening round of the US Open as another positive sign, as DeChambeau posted a three-under 67 that left him in a seven-way tie for 7th, five strokes off the lead.
For DeChambeau, it’s the eighth time in his last 21 US Open rounds that he’s shot in the 60s, and it ties for his second-lowest US Open score.
With his tie for fourth in last month’s PGA Championship, followed by his two best results of the LIV Golf League season, the Crushers captain certainly is trending up.
“I have a lot more confidence than usual,” DeChambeau said. “I don’t have my full ‘A’ game right now but … I’m trying to get back to it.”
That’s the reason why he has spent endless hours on the range, including Wednesday’s final tune-up session in which he acknowledged hitting even more balls than usual.
“Trying to figure out what I did in 2018 that made it so repeatable, and I’m very close to figuring it out,” DeChambeau said. “Just going to a take a little bit more time, little bit more grinding, a little more thought. Got to come up with something unique that allows me to be super-stable through impact like I was.”
After starting Thursday’s round on the 10th tee, DeChambeau made the turn at even par, then played his final nine holes in three-under. As usual, he took advantage of the par 5s, making birdies on all three.
Even so, issues remained. On his final tee shot of the day at the par-3 ninth, DeChambeau’s ball sailed over the bunker guarding the left side of the green and he had to scramble for par. He said the poor tee shot was a result of not having stable hands through impact.
“Working through why when I apply a certain amount of force, a lot of force, it just sometimes feels different through impact and trying to hone that in,” he said. “If I have what I had at the PGA, I’ll be contending for sure.”