Zach Johnson focused on the 'next one'

By John P. Borneman
Published on
Zach Johnson focused on the 'next one'

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Every so often, something will make Zach Johnson stop and remember his status as a two-time major champion.

Most times it's a congratulatory text or an email from a household name. He's heard from the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Condoleezza Rice, among others, since he captured the British Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland in July.

But the moments don't last very long.

"Those are the times when it settles in that I did something pretty substantial," Johnson said before throwing the ceremonial first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field on Aug. 18. "But then my daughter starts crying and she's got a wet diaper, so, back to reality."

Johnson's reality is much different today than when he turned professional in 1998.

Now, the 39-year-old Iowa native and father of three is a 12-time PGA Tour winner, including the 2013 BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest. He returns there to start the third round of the FedEx Cup playoffs on Thursday, Sept. 17. But Johnson took the long road to the PGA Tour after a college career at Drake, grinding away on mini-tours like the now-defunct Prairie Golf Tour and what is now the tour for years.

He didn't earn his PGA Tour card until 2004 after winning two events and earning $494,882 on the Tour in 2003. He won his first PGA Tour event that year, then broke out in 2007 when he won two events, including the Masters for his first major.

"Coming out of a school like Drake, he probably had no business being a pro golfer," said Scott Hogan, who played mini-tours in Arizona, California and Nevada before settling into a career as a golf instructor. "But he believed in himself. He thought he could do it. He knew he belonged, and he figured out a way to belong. He found out about who he was as a player on those mini-tours."

Ranked No. 56 in the world at the time of his Masters win, Johnson became the first player outside the top 50 to win at Augusta National. He battled Tiger Woods down the stretch, making birdie on three of his last six holes to finish 1-over par and beat Woods, Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini by two.

That wouldn't be the last time Johnson won a major when many fans were pulling for someone else. His win at St. Andrews earlier this year helped end Jordan Spieth's bid for a Grand Slam.

"In 2007, a lot of people thought that was one that Tiger lost," Johnson said. "This year, everybody thought, 'Well, Jordan's going for three and it's the one he lost.' ... I'm OK with that. The bottom line is, on the fourth day of those events, I was able to come out on top."

Johnson's game hasn't changed much since that Masters victory. He's accurate off the tee (hitting the fairway 71.54 percent of the time in 2015) with a scoring average right around 69.8. He lives in St. Simons Island, Ga., now, but his Midwestern roots are deep enough that he can still play the part of a Cubs fan, pose with an ear of corn and the Claret Jug, or draw a crowd whenever the PGA Tour stops anywhere near Iowa.

He's still grinding away.

"Everybody asks me which [win] means the most or which one is most special," Johnson said. "But it's the next one and it's the process in getting to the next one that means the most. Whether it was on the mini-tours or or the PGA Tour. I enjoy the work, I enjoy what it takes to try to get to that level and get to that point, and as a result, I think it becomes easier to try to relish those opportunities.

"When you get on tour, you're on tour for a reason. [You] kind of hone what you have, make necessary improvements, but you don't have to do much. You can play with what you have."

And what Johnson has is two majors. The list of players who can say that is relatively short.

"You get a taste of one, you want another one," he said. "You get a taste of two, I can tell you, you still want another one."

This article was written by John P. Borneman from Pioneer Press Newspapers, Suburban Chicago and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.