- At the 2016 Ryder Cup, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose challenged a U.S. fan to a $100 bet.
- We caught up with the fan who sunk the putt and took that cool $100 from the three European Ryder Cup teammates.
David Johnson isn’t much of a gambler. Oh, once in a while, he’ll throw down five bucks on a friendly wager with buddies, but that’s about it.
He also isn’t a world-class golfer.
The 32-year-old insurance agent from Mayville, North Dakota, is about a 14-handicap, insisting he’s “pretty consistent” while also admitting that his game can go south in a hurry.
All of which makes him an unlikely candidate to take a somewhat hefty bet off three of the world’s pre-eminent professional golfers.
And yet, that’s exactly what happened at the Ryder Cup two years ago.
Attending the Thursday practice round at Hazeltine as a spectator, Johnson was standing among a few thousand other red, white and blue-clad fans by the sixth green, watching the European trio of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose become increasingly befuddled by a certain putt.
It was about a 12-footer, which McIlroy and Stenson repeatedly attempted — and repeatedly missed.
Finally, Johnson provided some levity, calling out from behind the gallery ropes: “I can make that putt!”
The moment would’ve ended with some giggles from those nearby if it wasn’t for Stenson’s ingenuity.
“Who said that?” the intimidating Swede asked the crowd.
“I wasn’t sure if I should run, hide or raise my hand,” Johnson recalled recently.
He fessed up.
In a video that’s been viewed on YouTube nearly 1.2 million times, Stenson invited Johnson to come join him on the putting green. Wearing a red pullover and jeans, Johnson offered him a high-five, then gave McIlroy a quick bro-hug.
Then they handed him a putter.
All of a sudden, the 14-handicap had the eyes of the golf world watching as he tried to back up his words.
“In my head, I was thinking, ‘Let’s just walk around and enjoy the moment and read the putt,’” Johnson remembered with a laugh. “So I stalled a little bit. I asked Henrik for the read, but he said, ‘You said you could make it.’”
As if the pressure of three elite golfers and thousands of observers and multiple TV cameras wasn’t enough, as Johnson started to line up the putt, Rose walked over and slapped a $100 bill right next to his ball.
“I thought, ‘That’s money he’s going to keep,’” Johnson admits.
Even Johnson was betting against himself. After playfully insisting he could make the putt, the Europeans had called his bluff. Now it was time to show his cards.
He took the putter head back, hit the ball way too hard and — somehow — it fell into the bottom of the cup, eliciting the type of roar from the crowd usually reserved for Tiger Woods on major championship Sunday afternoons.
“I was going to make a fool out of myself; it was going to be the worst putt you’ve ever seen, but the hole got in the way,” Johnson says. “If it didn’t, that ball was going into the water.”
McIlroy concurs, explaining now, “If that putt didn’t go in the hole, it was going off the green.”
Instead, Johnson became an instant American hero.
He pumped his fists in the air, pointed to the crowd and, yes, collected his hard-earned cash.
Rather than watch the rest of the practice round, he became a media darling, spending the afternoon granting dozens of interview requests about his putt heard ‘round the world.
Two years later, he hasn’t stopped hearing about it.
“I still have people come up to me and introduce themselves and ask to hear the story,” he says. “It’s one that everyone can relate to, such an improbable moment. It shouldn’t have happened; I shouldn’t have had the opportunity; it shouldn’t have gone in.”
On the day before the most pressure-packed event on the golf calendar, the moment provided more than a comedic interlude.
For the Europeans, it served as a way to have a little fun with the home crowd.
“When you’re the away team, it’s good to do stuff like that, just to show them that we’re having fun,” McIlroy says. “It’s not this animosity. It was a cool moment.”
For Johnson, it was an opportunity to live every golfer’s dream, not only backing up his words, but getting a chance to one-up some of the world’s best players at their own game.
“It gives you further appreciation for those who play golf and the sport in general,” he says. “I was told by a lot of people that it’s time to retire. It’s hard to disagree with that.”
Oh, and that $100 bill?
To this day, it’s the biggest bet that Johnson has ever won. And no, he hasn’t spent it. Signed by the three European players, the bill is framed and stored away in a safe place.
The memories, though, are forever on display.