WORCESTER, Mass – Dustin Johnson is ranked first in the Official World Golf Rankings, but he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since shooting a record 20 under at the Masters in November.
He’s too talented for his victory drought to last much longer, but in case it does, returning to TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, to play in the Travelers Championship June 24-27 could be just what he needs.
When DJ edged Kevin Streelman by a stroke to win the Travelers last June, it was his first victory since he captured the WGC-Mexico Championship 16 months earlier. Eight events in the spring of 2020 were canceled because of the pandemic, but it was still a long time without a victory for DJ, who has won 24 PGA Tour events, including at least one in each of his first 14 seasons on Tour. That’s an impressive streak. Tiger Woods also won in each of his first 14 seasons and Jack Nicklaus won in each of his first 17 to set the standard.
Usually, the bowl around the 18th green is filled with thousands of fans at TPC River Highlands, but fans were not allowed last year because of the pandemic. So only 38 people, mostly tournament officials and sponsors, watched when DJ sank the winning putt, according to Travelers tournament director Nathan Grube said.
“Super strange,” DJ said during a Zoom conference with the media Monday morning. “Obviously, (I’m) used to winning and having huge crowds there, lots of media, lots of pictures. It was a completely different vibe winning. It felt like junior golf almost, a couple of parents standing around clapping for you. But you know it’s a big win, you know people are watching at home.”
“It was the weirdest experience that I ever had in my life,” said Andy Bessette, Travelers executive vice president and chief administrative officer. “The only thing a little stranger was there was a trophy ceremony, which is typically on 18 green, but it was under a tent and it was socially distanced.”
Bessette remembers asking DJ to pick up his trophy and show it to everyone because no one else could touch it due to the pandemic.
Next month, 10,000 fans will be allowed at TPC River Highlands each day, still nowhere near as many as usual, but a huge improvement over last year.
DJ’s 9-under 61 in the third round at the Travelers established a career low that lasted less than two months. In August, he shot an 11-under 60 in the second round of his 11-shot victory in the Northern Trust at TPC Boston in Norton, Massachusetts, and became the first golfer to sweep both of the two current PGA Tour events in New England.
DJ’s victory at the Travelers kickstarted a highly successful few months and he was voted PGA Tour Player of the Year for the second time.
“Any time I get a win, it gives me a lot of confidence,” DJ said, “and I kind of continued the good play. I felt like every week I was giving myself a chance to win.”
In addition to prevailing at TPC Boston, he went on to capture the Tour Championship in September and the rescheduled Masters in November. He prevailed at Augusta after testing positive for COVID-19 and having to quarantine in a Las Vegas hotel room for 11 days.
Since his Masters victory, however, his only top 10 finish in his eight PGA Tour events has been a tie for eighth at The Genesis Invitational in February. He missed the cut in defense of his Masters’ championship in April and he tied for 54th once and he shared 48th for the second time in his most recent appearance, at the Valspar Championship on May 2.
DJ did win the Saudi Invitational on Feb. 7, however, to record his ninth European Tour victory, and the Saudi Arabians have reportedly offered him $30 million to play in their new Premier Golf League next year.
There are six PGA Tour events scheduled before the Travelers, including the PGA Championship May 20-23 at Kiawah Island in DJ’s home state of South Carolina and the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego the week before Travelers. So DJ could earn a victory or two before he defends his Travelers title.
Either way, he should have great memories when he returns to TPC River Highlands.
“It’s a fun course to play,” he said. “You can make a lot of birdies, but if you’re just a little bit off, you can make real easy bogeys on pretty much any hole.”
DJ credits his improved wedged play with helping him reach No. 1 in the world rankings. Having his brother Austin caddie for him has also been a plus.
“He’s pretty good at knowing when I need to refocus,” DJ said, “or if I need to relax a little bit. Obviously, he’s my brother, he knows me better than anyone.”
Tickets can be purchased at TravelersChampionship.com beginning May 25. Grounds tickets cost $50 for Wednesday, $65 for Thursday and Friday, and $70 for Saturday and Sunday. Courtyard tickets include food, beverage and access to an open-air structure providing shaded stadium seating overlooking the 17th or 18th hole. They cost $150 for Wednesday, $260 for Thursday and Saturday, and $280 for Friday and Sunday.
All ticket sales will be digital and must be purchased in advance. All concessions and retail locations will accept only cashless forms of payment. Masks must be worn at all times unless actively eating or drinking, and spectators will be asked to social distance.