I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to rattle off 3-5 answers without thinking too hard: Who are the best modern golfers with just a single major championship to their names? The ones where you think, “hmmm, they really should have won more.”
Shout ’em out. When you’ve named a few, read on…
If you’re a golf fanatic, I’m guessing you named the following men: Dustin Johnson. Jason Day. Justin Rose. Adam Scott. Sergio Garcia. Maybe Henrik Stenson.
For now, let’s forget Adam Scott—nobody is quite sure what happened to his career, though it seems that he stopped caring. Put Sergio on the backburner too, since he’s still in his post-Masters honeymoon phase, and only seems to make noise when his wife gets angry at TV commentators for making tame jokes.
And as for Henrik, well…Henrik is always kind of in the mix, but Henrik is also old, and there’s no major indication that he’s ready to break through.
Which leaves us with the triumvirate of one-hit underachievers: Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Justin Rose.
We’ll start with DJ. As it happens, he’s the best player in the world, both by the world rankings and by any reasonable eye test. He’s an absolute stud, and he was in full colossus mode at the St. Jude last week, winning by six strokes over second place, and 10 strokes over third place.
It was the most dominant win we’ve seen on the PGA Tour this season, and it’s the kind of win that only a few players are capable of. At his best, there’s no doubt that DJ is the most talented golfer on the planet.
And yet, he only has that one major – the 2016 U.S. Open. By this point in his career, the close calls are legendary, from the “ground the club” incident at Whistling Straits to the brutal three-putt on the 18th at Chambers Bay.
More than any other golfer in the world, the fact that he’s 33 with only one major is absurd.
His game is way too good, and in order to solidify his legacy, he has a lot of ground to make up with not much time to do it.
That makes this U.S. Open particularly important. He couldn’t ask for better form, and at a course like Shinnecock that rewards length, he’s the overwhelming favourite.
Golf is hard, and winning in back-to-back weeks is even harder, but this is a golden opportunity. By all rights, he should end with five majors, and it starts today.
Jason Day is a little better off than DJ, for the simple fact that he’s younger, but his career trajectory looks eerily similar. Day is 30 now, and along with his one USPGA Championship win in 2015, he has a resume littered with near misses—the blown late lead at the 2011 Masters and three other second-place finishes strewn through the years.
Like DJ, he has spent significant time at the world no. 1 position (most recently for a period of almost a full year between 2016 and 2017). And like DJ, his list of professional wins is staggering in comparison to his lone major.
There’s another point of comparison, too – he’s hot as can be this season, with two wins and several top 10 finishes.
Day’s attention tends to fluctuate, and with it his golf game, but he’s now in a period of full focus, and it would be a massive disappointment for him to end the 2018 season with his major count still stalled out at one. A good performance at Shinnecock is critical for him.
Finally, we move to Rose—the oldest of the bunch at 37. He’s nearing the age at which golfers are expected to fall out of their prime, but Rose has shown no signs of slowing.
Fresh off a victory in Texas and a sixth-place finish at the Memorial, he’s risen to no. 3 in the world – a career best.
He may not have the supernatural ball-bashing abilities of DJ or Day, but he’s literally good at everything, and his skill set has always suited a U.S. Open course – which was especially apparent when his +1 was good enough to land him his only major in 2013 at Merion.
Rose has two second-place finishes at Augusta (his lack of a green jacket is one of the foremost disappointments of his career, considering how well he plays the course), and a handful of top 10s elsewhere. Like Day and DJ, he should have more.
Unlike them, the chance of a breakout period that could net him multiple majors has probably passed—at 37, even the loftiest ambitions make it unlikely he’ll win more than two more.
Still, there’s a lot at stake here – it’s simply not good enough for him to retire with a single major.
All three of these men are underachievers in the Major category, and all three have a big chance to remedy that situation at Shinnecock.
They are, arguably, the three favourites, and their form is phenomenal. It helps that some of their main competitors, like Spieth and McIlroy, are mired in struggles that seem to take them out of contention.
The opportunity is there for the taking, and if one of them succeeds, he will have transformed a career and cemented a legacy.