Dustin Johnson had just shown his native Southern manners, letting out-of-contention playing partner Jason Day take his final putt of the 115th U.S. Open before him.
A lot of good chivalry did Johnson.
The powerful, strapping 30-year-old from South Carolina then took his turn over the ball Sunday near the same place on the 18th green. Johnson’s ball was 13 feet from immortality. Or at the very least an 18-hole playoff with Jordan Spieth on Monday back at Chambers Bay.
But Johnson pushed his eagle putt on the 601-yard par-5 a mere foot to the left of the cup — but four ominous feet past the hole. He showed no reaction. The world’s seventh-ranked player knew a tie was still well within a club length.
Then the putter that had failed him for much of this thrilling Sunday did it one last time. It pushed his ball off the left edge of the cup and past it again. This time, Johnson’s knees buckled.
Suddenly, a likely 68 for his first major championship and then a near-certain 69 to force a playoff were gone as fast as you can say, “Did that just happen?”
Even more excruciating defeat.
“Fortunately I got to see Jason’s putt. Because if I hadn’t seen Jason’s putt I might have hit that thing (for eagle and the win) 10 feet wide of the hole,” a composed but obviously stunned Johnson said outside the players’ locker-room tent.
Meanwhile, up the hill, USGA officials prepped the 18th green for the 21-year-old Spieth’s trophy presentation that certified he was, improbably, halfway to a 2015 Grand Slam.
“I just touched it — and it rolled,” Johnson said of the errant eagle try. “I mean, it was a tough putt.”
His broad shoulders shrugged, the opposite direction from where they had sunk 20 minutes earlier for all the world to see. And feel.
“It was going to be a difficult putt to make,” he said after his mammoth 360-yard drive — his best of his day — started his fateful, final hole of the nation’s golf championship. “But I don’t understand how my ball ended up there (four feet past the hole). I would have thought it would come down a little.”
It didn’t, leaving him about three more feet than he wanted.
He also didn’t want the three bogeys he made on holes 10, 11 and 12 to begin a three-putt palooza on his back nine. Many of the misses were inside of 10 feet on the brownish, much-debated greens. That turned his two-shot lead at 6 under into a one-shot deficit to Spieth, who was steadier near even for the day throughout most of the afternoon. But then Spieth went double-bogey 5 on the par-3 17th green minutes before Johnson birdied that.
And just like that they were as they began this day, tied at 4 under. For about five minutes.
“You know, I played well today. I did everything I was supposed to do,” Johnson said, shrugging again. “I hit the ball really well, and I’m proud of the way I handled myself. I just really struggled getting the ball in the hole today. I didn’t think I was hitting bad putts; I thought I hit them pretty good. They just weren’t going in.”
Again. This was the fourth major in which Dustin Johnson was part of the final pairing Sunday. He’s a cumulative plus-14 in those rounds. And he has never won a major title.
He does, however, still have his pride, his girlfriend Paulina Gretzky (hence the many “Great One!” cheers from the rowdy gallery Sunday) and their son, Tatum Gretzky Johnson. Tatum’s name, not Dustin’s, is sewn into Johnson’s bag he used all week.
“I am proud of the way I played,” Johnson said on this unforgettable Father’s Day of the highest — and most excruciating — finish in his eight career U.S. Opens.
“I got to hold up my trophy today — which is my son.”