HARTFORD, Conn. – Travelers Championship officials had to be delighted to hear their defending champion in 2021 is the PGA Tour Player of the Year.
Dustin Johnson, the top-ranked player in the world again, was voted the honor on Monday by PGA Tour members who played at least 10 official FedExCup events during the 2019-2020 season. Last week, Justin Thomas, who missed the cut at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell in June, captured his second PGA of America Player of the Year Award in four years via a points system that included victories (three), winning the money title and finishing third in the Vardon Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average behind Webb Simpson, who was fourth in the Player of the Year race.
Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee took umbrage with the players’ vote, saying the award should be for work throughout the year and that Thomas had three wins, one more than Johnson. I usually enjoy Chamblee’s commentary because he’s a straight shooter and not afraid to speak his mind. But Travelers officials might want to remind Chamblee that Johnson actually won three times, starting when he extended his number of years for winning a PGA Tour event to 13 years when he shot 19-under-par 261 for a one-stroke victory over 2014 champion Kevin Streelman in Cromwell. Not to mention that Johnson didn’t play as much as Thomas because of injury problems.
After his Travelers victory, Johnson won two of the three FedExCup playoff event, initially becoming the first player to score the “New England Daily Double” when he shot an astonishing 30-under 254 for an 11-stroke victory over Harris English in The Northern Trust at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass. It was the largest margin of victory on the Tour since Phil Mickelson romped to a 13-stroke victory in the 2006 BellSouth Classic. Johnson’s fifth victory in the FedExCup playoffs moved him to No. 1 in the standings and back to No. 1 in the world rankings for the first time since May 2019.
After making 43-foot birdie putt on the final hole to get into a playoff with Jon Rahm in the BMW Championship in Chicago, Johnson finished second when the Spaniard sank an even more improbable curling 66-footer on the first extra hole. Then in the playoffs and 2019-2020 season finale, Johnson built a 54-hole lead in his fourth consecutive start of five strokes and cruised to a three-shot win over Xander Schauffele in the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
Johnson, 36, of Jupiter, Fla., won the FedExCup and its $15 million bonus for the first time, and his three victories tied Thomas for most on the Tour and marked his fourth season with at least three wins. He moved to 27th on the all-time wins list with 23 career victories and joined Hall of Famers Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods with wins in at least 13 consecutive years to start a career.
“On behalf of the PGA Tour, my congratulations to Dustin Johnson on being voted the 2020 PGA Tour Player of the Year by his peers, the ultimate compliment a player can receive,” said commissioner Jay Monahan, a native of Belmont, Mass., who graduated from Trinity College in Hartford. “Dustin made it known throughout the season that the FedExCup was a priority, and his performances in the FedExCup Playoffs were nothing short of spectacular with two wins and a runner-up. His demeanor and athleticism on the course make it look very easy, but behind the scenes, he’s worked incredibly hard coming back from injury and his 2019-20 season speaks for itself in further bolstering his World Golf Hall of Fame resume.”
Johnson, who did not make a start last fall due to injury, returned to competition in December, representing the United States in the Presidents Cup for the fourth time in Melbourne, Australia, where he was 2-2 as the Americans rallied in singles for a 16-14 victory over the International side. He opened the season with a tie for seventh in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and shared 10th in the Genesis Invitational before the Tour shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the season resumed on June 12, Johnson was 111th in the FedExCup standings until he won the Travelers Championship in his third start and moved to 22nd.
After shooting two 80s in the Memorial Tournament hosted by Nicklaus and then a 78 before withdrawing from the 3D Open, Johnson began a streak of 12 rounds in the 60s, starting with the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, where he tied for 12th. In the first major championship since the Tour resumed, Johnson took the lead into the final round of the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco before finishing runner-up for the second consecutive year to become the first player to finish second in the event in consecutive years since Nicklaus in 1964-65.
When Johnson led after three rounds of the Tour Championship, he became the first player since Woods in 1999 to hold the 54-hole lead/co-lead in four consecutive starts. After five top-five finishes in the FedExCup in 11 previous seasons, Johnson claimed the FedExCup for the first time and won the Tour Championship for his sixth career Playoffs title, the most of any player. In all, Johnson had seven top-10 finishes, made 11 cuts in 14 starts and ended the season No. 1 in the rankings.
After not playing in the 2020-21 season opener in the Safeway Open won by two-time Greater Hartford Open champion Stewart Cink on Sunday, Johnson will play in the 120th U.S. Open, which starts Thursday at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Johnson was selected for the Jack Nicklaus Award over Thomas, Simpson, Rahm and PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa, one of the top four amateurs in the country to receive a sponsor’s exemption to the 2018 Travelers Championship. Johnson was also Player of the Year in 2016, when he won his only major title in the U.S. Open, and it’s the third time in the last four seasons the FedExCup champion was named POY. Johnson will defend his Travelers Championship title on June 24-27, 2021.
Scottie Scheffler, 24, of Dallas, Texas, will receive the Arnold Palmer Award as PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, having bested Harry Higgs, runner-up to Cink on Sunday, Maverick McNealy and Viktor Hovland, another top amateur to get a sponsor’s exemption to the Travelers Championship last year. Scheffler finished fifth in the FedExCup as one of eight PGA Tour rookies to qualify for the playoffs and one of two to advance to the Tour Championship. With his fifth-place showing, Scheffler joined Schauffele (2016-17) as the only rookies in the FedExCup era to finish the season in the top five of the standings.
After two wins on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019, Scheffler claimed Player of the Year honors. He’s the second consecutive player, and third overall, to be named the Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in successive seasons, joining Cink (1996-97) and Sungjae Im (2018-19). But Scheffler was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Open on Sunday after testing positive for COVID-19. The U.S. Golf Association said Scheffler was asymptomatic and at home in Dallas.