Defending Colonial champion Zach Johnson in his own words

Posted Sunday, May. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Zach Johnson, defending champion at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, has placed his fingerprints on multiple pages of the tournament record book in recent seasons.

During last year’s triumph, his second in the past three years, Johnson posted his 15th consecutive under-par round in Fort Worth’s annual PGA Tour event. No one else in Colonial history has more than 13.

Johnson, 37, collected the 2010 Colonial title by setting the tournament scoring record at 21-under par (259 total). He broke the existing mark by two strokes with weekend rounds of 64-64 that matched the lowest 36-hole closing stretch by any Colonial champion.

He will head into Thursday’s opening round at “Hogan’s Alley” with four consecutive top-10 finishes in the event (2009-2012). Only four golfers in Colonial history have longer top-10 streaks: five-time champion Ben Hogan, the late golf legend from Fort Worth (seven, 1946-53); Gene Littler (six, 1963-68); Cary Middlecoff (six, 1950-55) and Lloyd Mangrum (six, 1948-54).

Why is Johnson, an Iowa native in his 10th season as a PGA Tour member, such a success in Fort Worth?

Maybe it has something to do with learning the game on a tree-lined, traditional golf course with bentgrass greens — the same characteristics that define Colonial. Perhaps there is some magic in owning a dog named in honor of the Hall of Famer whose bronze statue sits on a Colonial veranda overlooking the 18th green.

Whatever the reason, Johnson (5-foot-11, 160 pounds) clearly is comfortable on the Colonial layout, where he has pocketed more money ($2,875,490) than any participant in tournament history.

Johnson, the 2007 Masters champ, also is comfortable discussing other elements of his life, including his charitable foundation, his relationship with longtime caddie Damon Green and his disdain for attempts to ban long putters and anchored putting strokes (neither of which he uses) from the game of golf. Below is a look at Johnson in his own words:

On why Johnson and

his wife, Kim, own a

Yorkshire Terrier named “Hogan”:

“I’m not a golf historian or even a sentimental kind of guy. I don’t collect anything. But I think certain things are kind of cool. And having a dog named Hogan ... is kind of cool. He’s nearly 8 and we just liked the name. It made sense. I’d been on tour for a couple of years when we got him and I’d always admired Ben. I didn’t know him. I never got to meet him. But I’ve always admired his golf swing. And then you hear stories about how he played the game and that’s pretty cool. If we had another one, we’d probably name him Nelson. Those are cool dog names.”

On similarities between Colonial and Elmcrest Country Club in Cedar Rapids, where he began playing golf as a 10-year-old:

“I just feel very comfortable here. I love it around the greens because it’s bentgrass and that’s what I grew up on. It just fits me. And that’s probably part of it. This is not a course you can overpower. It’s kind of old-school, like there (at Elmcrest), where you have to work your way around and remain patient ... I love it off the tee because you do have to hit it straight. That’s true in both places.”

On why he started the Zach Johnson Foundation, which has raised $700,000 for community agencies serving children in need in the Cedar Rapids area over the past seven years. One current recipient is the Community Health Free Clinic, which provides free medical, dental and prescription services:

“When I turned pro, I needed help. And the Cedar Rapids community helped me. Not just financially, but support in other ways. It’s the place I grew up and gave me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do ... We’ve benefited multiple organizations over the years, organizations that just need help. Grassroots programs that don’t have the money to sustain (themselves otherwise). It’s about trying to help enrich kids’ lives.”

On being a father of three, ranging from a kindergartner to a 6-month-old (born Nov. 1, 2012):

“It’s influenced my playing schedule. I’ve taken more time off (this spring). We want to keep school as normal as possible. This summer, we’ll travel a lot together as a family.”

On grief he has received from peers after last year’s Colonial, when Johnson’s improper ball mark on the 72nd hole resulted in a two-stroke penalty that trimmed his final margin of victory from three strokes to one:

“At my charity event (in Cedar Rapids), we’re having a clinic and Ben Crane grabs the microphone. He says, ‘We’re going to talk a little bit about Golf 101.’ He and Stewart Cink go on and on ... about marking the ball and, at that point, they bring out a ball marker the size of a hubcap. On one side, it has our foundation’s name. On the other side, it says, ‘Remember Colonial.’ Those were passed out to every participant. It was pretty memorable. I still haven’t paid back our tournament chairman for doing that.”

On being such a high-profile inclusion in the Colonial record book:

“Just knowing the names that have won at Colonial and the history behind it, it’s a great honor. At some point, a lot of these records will be broken. But down the road, history shows who did what. And that part is cool. Being associated with the names and the faces and the pioneers of the game that have played here over the years, and won here over the years, is special.”

On the chance to join Ben Hogan (1946-47, 1952-53) as the only Colonial champion to repeat in consecutive seasons:

“It’s hard to win once. So hard. Nothing to detract from what he did back then, but no one is going to argue that the game hasn’t gotten deeper. That’s the bottom line ... I’m not saying we’ll never see someone win here five times again, or back-to-back. But back-to-back is really difficult. There’s only so many guys that can do that. I don’t put myself in that league. Tiger (Woods) does that, but Tiger’s a once-in-a-generation type of player. If it happens, I’d have to retract my answer. I just don’t see it happening. But that’s the beauty of sport, though. It could. That’s why they play the game.”

On the influence of longtime caddie Damon Green on his success:

“He benefits me a great deal. There’s only been three tournaments (as a PGA Tour competitor) that I haven’t had him on my bag. Two of those were because of the birth of his son. And the other was because he was playing in the U.S. Senior Open ... He gets me. He gets my game. And he knows how to play the game because he’s a great player. I put a lot of value in that. When he speaks up, I know it’s warranted ... He does frustrate me, at times, because he’s old and stubborn. We’re opposite in a lot of respects. I like to walk fast and I get a little uptight. He kind of moseys around and is pretty low-key. For me, he’s great.”

On the significance of having a 10-year working relationship with the same caddie:

“You look at the players who have won a lot since I’ve been out here. For the most part, there’s minimal caddie turnover. I think that’s an article in itself right there. I know you have to make business decisions ... but it seems to me that some of my peers jump around way too much. They’re trying to find something that’s just not going to be there, rather than sticking it out and proceeding down that road as a team. I’m kind of glad they don’t.”

On the proposed rule change, championed by the U.S. Golf Association, to ban long putters and anchored putting strokes in the sport by Jan. 1, 2016:

“I’m not a proponent of the ban. The rationale does not warrant a change. I think we’re way too far into it right now (with long putters). It’s part of golf. It’s in the fabric of the game ... I’m not at all tempted to do it. But for some guys, it does help. To take it out would cause a rip and I don’t think it’s necessary. The USGA says they don’t like the way it looks. That’s garbage. If we do this, it’s going to hurt the game.”

On the significance of owning a Colonial plaid jacket, given annually

to the tournament

champion:

“The plaid jacket has lots of weight and vibrant colors, too. It’s not just a coat. There’s a lot more to it than that. There’s only so many things in sport that stand out. And this is one of them. This tournament has stood the test of time ... The pioneers of the game are on that Wall of Champions. To win here was a dream realized. As time has gone on, I’ve grown to appreciate it even more.”

On what he does to improve his game other than huddle regularly with longtime swing coach Mike Bender:

“The biggest thing for me going forward is maintaining health. I’m 37. My body’s starting to break down. Going to the gym is essential. Some guys are blessed with being overly flexible or not having physical ailments. I’m not one of them. I just need to give as much attention to my body as I do to my practice and the mental side. I’m always trying to eliminate my deficiencies. My shoulders, my back and my hips. Just the stuff you use all the time.”

On the value for the PGA Tour in having a potential Tiger Woods-Rory

McIlroy rivalry at the top of the world golf rankings in 2013 and beyond:

“I don’t know if it’s a rivalry yet. To me, the rivalries are established in dramatic fashion. They’re established head-to-head, one-on-one, coming down the stretch. And we just haven’t seen that yet ... Time will tell. But you can sense it. Rory could be that next person to take over for Tiger. It has the potential to be a rivalry and I think that would be great because Rory’s a great kid and a phenomenal talent. He carries himself extremely well. It’s great to have him out here on the PGA Tour.”

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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