Category - Major Events
How One Ryder Cup Fan Became a Folk Hero After Sinking the Ultimate Pressure Putt
By Adam Stanley
(David Cannon/Getty Images)
The early step, the two-armed fist pump, and the “USA-USA” chants that reverberated afterwards continue to be part of Ryder Cup lore to this day.
And we’re not even talking about someone who made the team.
You must remember David Johnson. The name, perhaps not. The moment – obviously.
Johnson, an insurance agent based out of North Dakota, technically won the first point of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club – and a crisp $100 from a foursome of Europeans, including two-time PGA Champion Rory McIlroy, who, Johnson said, was one of his favorites to follow.
It's been seven years now since that fateful putt along with all the pomp and circumstance that followed. Johnson did a plethora of interviews that day – turns out, Golf Channel aired his putt live – and he and his wife were even flown out to do Stephen Colbert’s late-night television show.
“As soon as it hit social media, everybody knew. It was a bit odd, but I loved it,” he says.
Showing the pros how it's done
Johnson came to Hazeltine with his cousin, best friend, and father and arrived mid-morning on Thursday to watch the final practice rounds before the competition began the next day. They waited more than 30 minutes before a group got to the par-3 8th hole where they were situated.
Henrik Stenson, who was playing with McIlroy (along with Justin Rose and Andy Sullivan) overheard Johnson claim that even he could make a 12-footer that the pros were flummoxed by. Johnson says at best he is an average golfer.
But this was particular effort was different.
“The first instinct (after yelling) was to hide a little bit. But as soon as all the other patrons looked around and directly at me, well, it was like 'this guy is about to get kicked out,' ” Johnson recalls with a laugh. “But (Stenson) said, 'Alright, come on in and make the putt.'
“In my head this was not going in. I was fully aware that I was missing this putt.”
Someone in the crowd, Johnson remembers, yelled that there was a million people watching. The putter he used was Andy Sullivan’s, who stands about six inches shorter than Johnson. A tall man using a short putter added to the hilarity of the moment.
"I hit the putt and it took off like it was on concrete. I hit the putt and the hole got in the way."
Rose was the golfer who laid $100 at the feet of Johnson, and that bill was signed by each of the four Europeans. He keeps it in a safe now.
“There was no way this guy is making the putt,” Rose says with a big smile. “This was my chance to humiliate this guy in front of everybody. It was a fun moment. He got the upper hand in that moment and walked away with $100. Good for him. That was cool.”
A star is born
Johnson ended up doing about 100 interviews during the 72 hours immediately following his viral moment.
“When it started going, it felt like everyone was willing it to go in. And everyone was so surprised that it did go in it was just a joyous explosion of sound,” Johnson told Golf Digest on the five-year anniversary of the putt.
People still recognize him and every once and a while the video or a screen-capture from it will be trotted out on social media. You can’t help but smile when you see it.
“The other day,” Johnson said in 2021, “someone on Twitter put a photo of the putt saying [2021 U.S. captain Steve Stricker] should make me a captain’s pick.
“I love reading the comments, just because everyone seems to have as much fun with it as I did.”
Johnson said with a laugh he probably hugged McIlroy a little too long, but he soaked up the moment as best he could. He backed up his comment with some serious action – and a celebration to match.
“It involved no skill, and it was 100 percent luck,” Johnson says with one final chuckle. “It was something that any average Joe could do, it just happened that it happened to me.”
A friendly, “I could do that” wager turned into a moment Johnson, and Ryder Cup fans, will never forget.