Maybe the greatest difference between Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, currently ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, respectively, is the way they describe how they are different.
Thomas immediately came up with a list: “Our ball flights are different. We have different putting strokes. We have different swings. Totally different body types. He’s more athletic than I am. He’s more flexible. He’s stronger than I am. He has won more times than I have. We have different personalities. We’re different ages. He has a family. I could sit here and go on and on if you want, but I think you get the picture.”
Johnson, when presented the same question, said: “I have no idea. I really don’t.”
What they have in common is that they both hit the ball a long way (even though Thomas is six inches shorter and 45 pounds lighter) and both are at the pinnacle. Each is a major champion, each has held the No. 1 ranking in the past four days and each will be “the other guy” in a threesome with Tiger Woods for the first two rounds of the 118th U.S. Open.
The Johnson-Thomas odd couple will make up two-thirds of the marquee group Thursday and Friday at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
“I like it. I think it’s going to be fun. I like playing with J.T. I like playing with Tiger. We’ll have a big gallery out there. It will be a lot of fun on Thursday afternoon when we tee it up,” Johnson said.
Elite tour golfers do pay attention to the ranking and they take great pride in reaching the top of the list that is updated weekly. Johnson regained No. 1 status Sunday by winning the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, after Thomas had held the honor for less than a month. He did not play in Memphis, having chosen instead to arrive early in Southampton and start practicing at Shinnecock. He took his demotion to second place in stride.
“I saw something that was just hysterical on social media,” Thomas said. “You know, often the scenario is, ‘The last time Tennessee beat Alabama in football, iPhones weren’t alive yet’ and stuff like that. This was like, the last time I wasn’t No. 1 in the world, [Alex] Ovechkin didn’t have a Stanley Cup and Rickie [Fowler] wasn’t engaged.
“It is what it is. He won. He deserves it for the time being and I just have to continue to do what I’m doing.”
Johnson, who (unlike Thomas) does not like to discuss his thoughts and feelings, did admit that it is rewarding to be best in the world at anything.
“I think it’s a spot where all golfers want to be,” he said. “It’s definitely a spot where I want to be. So it’s motivation to keep me working hard and keep doing the things I’m doing.”