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April 17, 2007

Zach Johnson

DAVE KAPLAN: I'm Dave Kaplan, the tournament director for the AT & T Classic. We have a new name and a new date. I'd like to spend a couple minutes talking in general about the tournament and then we'll get Zach to talk a little bit about his whirlwind of the last few weeks and the AT & T Classic.
As you all remember, prior to last year's tournament, we did some work on the front nine at Sugarloaf, transitioned all the rough to Bermuda. They were overseeded, and did some tee leveling and a few bunker changes on the front nine, and this past year after the tournament we did the same thing to the back nine.
The roughs are now Bermuda, but everything is overseeded with Rye, and there have been a few bunker changes. For instance, on No. 17 the bunker on the right, fairway bunker on the right has been moved out because guys were just blowing it over those bunkers, and now that bunker will come into play a little bit more. And there's several other strategic bunkering changes.

Q. Are you Zach-proofing the course?
DAVE KAPLAN: We thought about that.
ZACH JOHNSON: You need to make it a lot shorter and tighter.
DAVE KAPLAN: Just talk about the field. We've got about 25 more days before commitment end on the Friday prior to the tournament. Of course Zach is committed; Charles Howell; Chris DiMarco; and while he has not committed, we received a hotel reservation for Vijay Singh; Boo Weekley, who won at Verizon this past weekend.
Internationally, because of the time, we will be losing a lot of those international players. The Irish Open is opposite us, and Wentworth is the following week. But we do have Henrik Stenson, who last I saw was ranked about 7th in the world, Niclas Fasth, who is in the world's top 50. We're also got our local guys, Stewart Cink, Billy Andrade, Jason Bohn, Heath Slocum, that crowd. And a little bit unique this year, we've got two Champions Tour players in our field, Larry Nelson who we gave a sponsor exemption to, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame; and Raymond Floyd, who wears the AT & T logo on his sleeve. So we have a couple Champions Tour guys in the field.
Two events that I'd just briefly like to talk about is we're going to have our first annual fishing tournament for the players on Tuesday, Bass and Birdies up at Lake Lanier. Tom Mann, Jr., a professional bass fisherman on the FLW and Bassmasters Tour, is heading that up, sponsored by Southern Company. And that will be just a little private thing for the players to enjoy. We have guides for each player and all the gear and everything, and anybody needs more information on that they can call me or John.
And another thing we're doing this year that has not been part of the tournament is those of you who covered the Chick-Fil-A Charity Championship down at Eagles Landing recall that Nancy Lopez presented an award to the top woman amateur golfer in the world for the prior year, and the last three winners have been Morgan Pressel, Lorena Ochoa and Paula Creamer.
Nancy wanted to continue that award and she wanted to continue it in Georgia, and we stepped up, the Atlanta Classic Foundation have stepped up, and offered her the opportunity to make that part of our Pro-Am Draw Party on Tuesday night.
So the winner has been determined. I won't say who it is, but the winner, the voting ended I guess over the weekend, and we're getting in contact with that person right now to make sure that she can come and accept the Nancy Lopez award at our Pro-Am dinner. Those are a few things happening with the tournament.
And now let's get to what we're here for, Zach Johnson, our 2004 champion, this year's Masters champion. As a little side note, the last three AT & T Classic champions, BellSouth Classic champions, have been the last three Masters champions, not necessarily in that order, but they have been.
I guess, Zach, I'll start with a question and let you expound. I guess one thing everybody wants to know is how The Masters has changed your life and your confidence level. Maybe you've had a little time for it to sink in.
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, it hasn't really sunk in yet, that's for sure. Still very surreal. I didn't get back from Hilton Head until last night due to the wind delay, so I'm still just trying to get my feet on the ground.
All in all, I don't think it's going to change a whole lot. From a professional standpoint obviously things have changed fairly significantly. I mean, my security is -- it was never bad, but it's certainly a lot better now, and I don't have to worry about privileges and where I'm playing and that sort of thing.
But personally, I don't think anything has really changed and I don't foresee it changing. I don't want it to change because I haven't changed in I don't know how many years, and I don't anticipate any --

Q. We'll make sure you don't change.
ZACH JOHNSON: That's right.

Q. Were you surprised at how well you played at Hilton Head after all that you had gone through at Augusta and the tough conditions as well as the whirlwind you did in New York with the media?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, a little bit, yes. I mean, I obviously wasn't able to prepare like I normally do, but I was also coming off a high and I was confident. I was able to maintain that high level of play I felt. I had a couple mental lapses early on Thursday, but I think that was probably due to fatigue and lack of sleep. But all in all, everything was pretty good, and everything just kind of felt good.
I lowered my expectations. I basically just wanted to go out there, play golf and have fun, and fortunately I continued some decent play.

Q. Talk a little bit about Sugarloaf and how you expect it to play in May versus March.
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, you know, I always liked Atlanta to prepare for Augusta, so in that respect I think it kind of stinks. But that's also being very selfish because I think that course, that town, Atlanta in general, the fans, certainly the tournament, the volunteers, have a well-deserved better date.
I think the golf course itself will be -- it's always been a good test. I mean, this course proves that, but I think it'll be even better. I don't see how it can't be. It's better weather. As you all know, the groundskeepers, the staff will be able to have a lot more freedom and leeway, and Mother Nature won't be -- shouldn't be as much of a havoc, just based on trend.
I think across the board, the positives certainly are awesome. You know, I think it was a great course to prepare for Augusta, but as you well know, you really can't prepare for Augusta. I'll just throw that one aside. I'm very, very happy that this tournament has been moved.
I remember sitting in your office a couple years ago, I think all types of precipitation in a matter of 24 hours, and you were writing a letter to Mr. Finchem and the Tour execs just with another request, like I'm assuming a lot of other tournaments do, and fortunately they listened, and now we're talking about a good date and obviously a very good field.
DAVE KAPLAN: Well, I think, just a comment I might make, the golf course was comment to play hard and fast, and the only year since we've been at Sugarloaf that it has done that is in the first year in 1997 when Scott McCarron won. In the second year we were in May and the year Tiger Woods won, we had rain the whole week, actually a tornado warning, which shut everything down on Thursday.
Then we've had various types of precipitation and wind and everything else on those other dates. If the course plays hard and fast, do you think it's going to bring other people into the mix as far as having a chance to win because when you look at the winners over the eight years we played the week before The Masters, for the most part other than you and Ben Crane, they were bombers. You had David Duval, you had Phil Mickelson three times, you had Scott McCarron, you had Retief Goosen. I mean, it was just --
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I couldn't agree more with you. I remember in 2004, there were some hints of rain here and there, but for the most part it was fairly dry. I remember hitting irons into holes that I haven't done -- I haven't hit since in Atlanta, at Sugarloaf.
I think it doesn't really matter where you play. The drier the conditions, obviously a little bit of added rough and firm greens, the better it is for everybody because it's more of a test. The field will separate. I mean, the person that comes out on top that hits it the best and putts the best will win. That's the way it should be.
I actually got the pleasure to play with Boo Weekley yesterday. Had he not won that golf tournament it would have been a travesty because he hit it as good as anybody I've seen in a long time. Mother Nature obviously had its toll on us, that was very evident, but he deserved to win the way he hit the golf ball and the way he putted.
I do think, like you said, having nice firm greens, that will make things that much better.
DAVE KAPLAN: We'll open it up for questions.

Q. People forget, tend to get lost in Phil's huge win last year, that you won that other tournament for people who weren't shooting out of their minds. You came in second. Combine that with your win in '04 and your victory at Augusta, you're doing quite well in Georgia for your career. Talk about that for a moment.
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, well, thank you. I don't know what it is. I guess I need to move there. I mean, I could live there but I don't think I'd be able to convince my wife of that.
For whatever reason, I mean, the golf course -- Sugarloaf I've always liked. I Monday qualified there for 2002, and since that point I've just grown to like it. The greens are bentgrass. That's a little bit of it. That's what I grew up on. I'm able to putt those well, see the breaks well, and that's a lot of it.
And so is Augusta's. Augusta's are bent. Maybe the style of grass, style of greens, I'm just very comfortable on. You can be putting well, but if you can't read the green or read the grain or understand the slopes, it really doesn't matter how well you're putting.
You know, aside from that, I'm confident on Sugarloaf. Like you said, I tied for second last year, 48 shots behind first (laughter), but I had a good week. I think it's just because of the confidence level I have on the course.
I know where I need to put it off the tee. Obviously I can't overpower it, but I know I need to put it up to shoot low scores, and I know where to miss it where I can still get up-and-down for par.

Q. Would you say the course suits your eye in particular?
ZACH JOHNSON: Definitely. I think part of it is very -- you know, it's long in the sense of -- from a yardage standpoint, but the course I grew up on, my course was very tight, and it was very much target golf, and I think Atlanta is very much target golf where for each shot you've got to have a target and you've got to execute your shot to be successful. I like that.
It's not one of those where you just get up there and bomb it. Yes, it's long, but at the same time, as Dave said, modest hitters, if you will, have won there many times. I think it's got the best of both worlds.

Q. Going back to the experience you had back in 2002, was that your first Tour event or your second? I forget which.
ZACH JOHNSON: That was my second.

Q. That was the first time I guess you made an impact on the tournament. Talk about that experience, Monday qualifying that week and being in contention for most of the tournament.
ZACH JOHNSON: Looking back on it, it was one of the best experiences I've had on a golf course, bar none. Basically you're talking about a kid who's played the mini-Tours, specifically the Hooters Tour, who comes -- I got in because the schedule, I was kind of in the area and I was able to go Monday qualify. I really hadn't done that much that year on the Hooters Tour. I had a couple of decent finishes but nothing substantial, and I get in, and then the next thing you know, I'm competing -- basically had a chance to do some really -- do some damage.
I was caught up and everything and I didn't perform very well on Sunday, but that confidence let into the remainder of my year and led into Q-school, and I was able to -- like two weeks after that, I played my next Hooters event, I won it by like six, seven shots. I was just on a high.
You know, I got to Q-school, I got my Nationwide card, and then off I went. I certainly think that was a catapult in a lot of respects for my career.

Q. For those of you that don't remember, as I recall, Zach, and correct me if I'm wrong, Zach four-putted the last hole, which would have put him in the Top 10 had he made par on the last hole which would have allowed him to play in the next regular TOUR event, which I think at that time would have been Houston if I'm not mistaken.
ZACH JOHNSON: That's exactly right. Technically the stats say I three-putted because I was on the fringe, but I used my putter for four. That's exactly right.

Q. I'm reminded of something the late Payne Stewart said after he won his first U.S. Open. He had a protracted slump, and I'm not saying it hit you or ever will, but for a while he carried a burden of expectations that he placed upon himself, he thought he had to play like a U.S. Open champion and changed his style. You still have a lot of adulation and attention still going to be coming your way for quite a while now, particularly this year. Any chance it will affect the way you carry yourself? Will you be able to shut that out and have your blinders on when you tee it up?
ZACH JOHNSON: I hope so. It's going to be a learning process, a learning experience. I could answer that question better in probably a year's time. But I anticipate being able to do that. I felt like when I won in Atlanta, granted, it wasn't a major, but I felt like that gave me the confidence, and then led into some momentum for the remainder of the year and I had some other good finishes. Actually I could have probably won a couple more times that year.
You know, I don't know. I mean, the majors are obviously what everybody looks at as far as history and everything, and just knowing that I can compete at that level in a major setting is huge. You know, I don't think I'm going to label myself as a Masters type of golf course player, or I don't think I'm going to be -- I don't think it's going to affect me, I really don't. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact I've got a nice family and team surrounding me that helps me keep my priorities in line and also keeps me grounded in what I need to get done to get better and play better golf.
I mean, the most encouraging thing about the Masters week for me is I felt like I played pretty good; I mean, I putted well and I played well when I had to at times, but I felt like I've played better rounds and I've played better golf for four days, but yet I still won.
You know, all in all, I'll feed off -- two weeks ago at Augusta, I'll feed off that for a long time.

Q. Talk a little bit about your background getting to the TOUR. You went a different route than a lot of guys do. You started low and you had success pretty much everywhere you went along the way, but it took you a while. You played two years on a couple of the tours before you moved up. Talk about the process was and how important it was for you to get to where you are now by having success at the lower levels before you got up to the Nationwide Tour and the PGA TOUR.
ZACH JOHNSON: Sure, sure. You know, in my opinion, and I think most players would agree with me, wherever you win, regardless of what Tour it is, what level it is, where it is, country, what have you, a win is a win. It doesn't matter. I mean, the fact of the matter is there's good players everywhere, one; and two, these players may have been at the PGA TOUR level at one time or another and dropped down, or at some time or another they're going to get there and be successful.
There's so many names out there, amateur and professional-wise that I know about and we know about that the media and public do not know about, but you will certainly very soon.
You know, playing on the mini-Tours and working my way up, all that hard work has certainly paid off, and I feel very fortunate to be where I'm at. I think playing the Hooters Tour, winning at that level, playing the Nationwide, winning at that level, has not only made me a better player on the PGA TOUR. I think those tours prepared me for where I'm at now.
Looking back on it, if I would have gone to Q-school and gotten to final stage and gotten my Tour card way back when, I don't definitely know if I'd be the complete player that I am now.

Q. What's your schedule? I guess you're skipping New Orleans this week. Are you going to play Byron Nelson and play through AT & T?
ZACH JOHNSON: I'm going to take two weeks off.

Q. Given what's happened the last couple weeks and knowing what's ahead with THE PLAYERS Championship and everything, it would have been easier to send regrets to Mr. Kaplan. What makes you remain committed to that tournament and what makes it -- why is it that you're loyal to the event?
ZACH JOHNSON: You're asking why am I playing Atlanta?

Q. Yeah, it would have been easier to drop out and not go through with your commitment.
ZACH JOHNSON: Actually I have not changed my schedule in the least. I was going to take two weeks off after I played Hilton Head. I was going it take two weeks off after that regardless, and then get out here. I'm playing Charlotte, I'm playing TPC, I'm playing Atlanta, and after that I'm not really sure what I'm going to play, but I haven't been sure since.
The reason why I'm playing Atlanta is, one, because I tend to play well in Georgia; and two, my wife does the Golf in the Garden. That's the only reason why I'm playing there (laughter). No, I'm kidding.
Really, the reason why I'm playing is like we were talking about before is I think the course and the tournament itself, I love everything about it. It would be hard for me not to play. Plus I've made a bulk of my earnings on that course, and with the FedExCup and added incentives this year, I think I'd be foolish not to play it.
Fortunately in my schedule I'm able to take two weeks off, play three in a row and see where I want to go from there. The only problem or issue is we have a schedule change, and all the tournaments are good, but there's so many good tournaments week after week, day after day in a row this year, it's unbelievable. I'm going to have to take some tournaments off that I usually play, and that's just the way it's going to have to be.

Q. You mentioned FedEx points. Are the players starting to talk about the FedEx points at all or is it too early?
ZACH JOHNSON: I think it's too early. I haven't really heard it to be honest with you. At the same time, if you're talking about just looking at the stats, right, that's one of our ways to monitor success on the PGA TOUR, or ways to monitor players on the PGA TOUR, we don't talk about Money Lists, we don't talk about our all-around rating and our driving stats or putting stats. We don't talk about that stuff anyway.
But I think more than anything, you know, I think FedExCup points is just going to add a little bit to the TOUR and be another way for fans to follow players.

Q. Back to the Georgia thing, having played so well in this state, the golf fans there are considered quite knowledgeable. Do you have a comment on how knowledgeable the golf fans are in Georgia, they really appreciate good golf?
ZACH JOHNSON: Do I think the Georgia fans appreciate good golf? Oh, absolutely.

Q. I guess what I was going for in that question is do they seem particularly knowledgeable about golf in Georgia in terms of appreciating good play and good shots?
ZACH JOHNSON: More so than other fans?

Q. Compared to other places you play on Tour.
ZACH JOHNSON: Not necessarily. That's a hard question to answer. You know, golf is big in the state of Georgia. In that respect, yeah, but I don't know if they're more knowledgeable. I haven't really sat down with the fans to find out.
But I'm going back to my previous -- the state of Iowa, although it's small and golf is probably not at the level of some other states, it's golf crazy up there. It's been golf crazy since I was a junior.
So to monitor or measure knowledge, I wouldn't know how to answer that question.

Q. Go back to Augusta for a minute. Talk a little bit about there's been a lot of talk over the years about how Augusta is a bombers' course and you've got to be able to get to the par 5s. Clearly you've disproved some of the notions. Do you think some of the myths about National favoring long hitters and stuff is a little bit exaggerated? I think you proved you can play the par 5s and eat them up by laying up and being a good wedge player.
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, a little bit, yes. I can't remember who I was talking to, but one of the past champions -- maybe I didn't talk to him, maybe I read it somewhere, that they won it and they went for one par 5 in two the year they won and they got par.
I think there's a lot of truth to it, but it's also condition-based. Last week there was a couple days where it could have rained or was supposed to rain, so the course for the most part got firm as the day went on -- as the tournament went on, and clearly with the wind and the cold we had on the weekend, it made it that much more firm.
And really, looking back on it, you know, granted, wedge into the par 5s, I can lay up to a wedge distance, and if I'm hitting my wedges well I can be successful. But I think part of the reason why I was able to make some birdies otherwise is the fact that I had some loft into some of the par 4s, and if it was wet, I'm not so sure I would have been able to have that loft.
If it's wet conditions, the bombers, they can pretty much fly it out there and it's going to stop wherever they land it, and they're going to be hitting a lot shorter clubs than I am. But with dry conditions, and I'm getting on some holes 30 or 40 yards of roll when I'm not putting a wedge in my hand, when other times I might be hitting a 7-iron or 6-iron. So some things worked out in my favor. You know, I made a lot of putts. That's what it comes down to. Augusta is all about understanding where to put the ball on the greens and making putts.

Q. I was looking at the stats for the tournament and I think you beat three guys in driving distance and two of them are on the Champions Tour and you had six three-putts which was more than anybody else in the tournament, and yet you won. What does that say about how well you played otherwise?
ZACH JOHNSON: It doesn't say a whole lot about my driver. You know, yeah, that's how I prepared. Honestly, I broke my driver about two months ago and I haven't found one since that has been great. And then I switched after a Friday's round to a backup of mine that felt a lot better. I felt like I was getting ten more yards in the air going into Saturday with the Titleist driver. Same driver, just felt a little better.
I proceeded to hit my irons well and putt well. My preparation for Augusta was not seeing how far I could hit it because if I gain more yards off the tee, you're talking about five yards here, three yards there. It's not going to be that significant of a difference. So putting the ball in the fairway was a premium, and then more of a premium for me was hitting my irons to an area of the putting green where I could make a putt, use the slope to my advantage and then clearly hitting my wedges close so I could make three. That's all I did to prepare.
I was up in Sea Island working with my instructor, and prior to that I was working -- well, working with Morris Pickens at Sea Island, and I was working with my instructor Mike Bender the week before just hitting wedges.

Q. Looking at it, you made I think 15 birdies or something in the tournament and 13 of them came either on the par 5s or No. 3. Does that tell you in order to win at Augusta when you've got a wedge in your hand you've got to take advantage of it because you're not going to birdie that many other holes?
ZACH JOHNSON: I think so, without a doubt. If the conditions were like they were, firm greens. I mean, firm greens and a wedge, you're going to be able to spin the ball. It's all about trajectory control and spin control, and if I have a long iron it's hard for me to spin it and it's hard for me to control it.
So yeah, I mean, like you said, 3 is a short par 4, I had a wedge into that hole. And heck, I had 50 yards on Sunday. I had short yardages into that hole every day. But that's where I've got to take advantage of the golf course and take advantage of my strengths.
DAVE KAPLAN: Zach, thank you so much. We'll see you in a couple weeks.

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