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April 22, 2008

Zach Johnson

DAVE KAPLAN: I am Dave Kaplan, tournament director for the AT&T Classic, and we have our defending champion on the line, Zach Johnson. And before we get with Zach, just a few comments. We are 19 days from the tournament, but whose counting.
This is our 40th anniversary, and we will again have Children's Healthcare as our primary charity. We have about eight past champions, eight or nine past champions in the field. Some of those are two-time winners in Scott McCarron and Zach.
Of course we have 17 days to complete our field but some of the players in the field now besides Zach are Retief Goosen; and pretty exciting, Greg Norman committed, the course designer. He has not played here since early 2001, 2002; and Stewart Cink of course lives out here has been playing pretty well this year; Chris DiMarco; J.B. Holmes; Hunter Mahan; D.J. Trahan; Charles Howell; winner this year Johnson Wagner, and Lucas Glover are some of the guys committed thus far in the field.
One of the things about this year's golf tournament that will be a little different, and I would like Zach to comment on this in a second. This will be the first time that this course has been played at tournament time when it has not been overseeded.
Since 1997 we have overseeded the golf course for the tournament and because of the level for water restrictions that went into effect in September, we were not able to overseed the golf course because rye needs a lot of water to get germinated.
So the course will be all bermudarough, all bermuda fairways, and hopefully it will play hard and fast and it will be a little bit different golf course than the players have seen over the last 11 years.
And those are my few comments, and Zach, I guess I'd let you say something about the golf course and about your great play in Georgia; it seems to be a state that you're pretty comfortable in as far as playing golf, and we'd like to hear from you.
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, yeah, thanks, Dave. It's always good to come back first and foremost. That event, the AT&T Classic, really seems to help my wife financially. So, you know, we are always excited to come back.
On a serious note, AT&T has got obviously a very special place in our hearts. It was one of the first PGA TOUR events I ever played. In I Monday-qualified in 2002 and obviously won in 2004 and of course last year. It's not just the golf course; it's certainly AT&T; it's obviously Dave and his staff. I think my wife -- I don't know who you call her, has been chairwoman I guess of the charity event, the Golf in the Garden for the last few years. I think the last few years the reigns are being taken over by someone else this year but she enjoyed that.
It's a very unique charity, giving back, you could say. We have some days on TOUR where we are able to go visit the beneficiary, but there's nothing remotely close to Golf in the Garden, especially when you see the kids and just a couple hours of our time, what that can do. So that makes it even that much more worth it.
Alongside of that, the golf course specifically, yeah, I'm excited about seeing how much of a change it is, how much different it really is. I think you get the weather like we had last year, I'm not so sure the type of surface really matters that much.
But, you get firm bermuda, and you know, some rough that's bermuda where the ball kind of sits up or sits down, you're going to see -- it's going to be more difficult, bottom line. You're going to get flyers at times and you're going to get shots where you have to wedge it out.
I'm anxious to see how far the ball rolls on the fairway, if it is firm. I guess my question is -- I think I know the answer; the greens are still bent, correct?
ZACH JOHNSON: Oh, thank God. Everything is going to be good. I'm excited to come back. Gosh, 19 days, that seems like yesterday that we were just there. But very excited.

Q. You have won there in April in the old days; you won there last year in May and this year will be another change with the lack of overseeding; are you up for a trifecta, to be able to win at the Sugarloaf under all conditions at all times?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, that's my goal, there's no question about that.
You know, that's a really good question. The April in which I won back in '04 certainly was a little bit cooler than last year, but I think the conditions were very similar with respect to the golf course. The weather was just a slight bit warmer last year, but in all honesty, the course played pretty fast. The greens were really pure back in '04 just as they were last year.
For whatever reason that, golf course just fits my eye. I think it's a target-oriented golf course, a shot-maker's course as well. But "target-oriented" meaning you just kind of plot your way around; you hit it here and then you have to hit it here and so forth. There's a few holes where you can overpower it and let loose, but I think that's few and far between.
Bottom line is, you guys all know, it's about putting if you're going to win tournaments and certainly to be in contention. I love those greens. You hit it on-line; it's going to go in.

Q. I have a question about last year's playoff, and it goes something like this. You for many years, were the young, up-and-coming guy, the guy who was trying to break into the upper echelon, you won in '04 and took the Masters, and when you got into that playoff with Ryuji, it was as if that was reversed. You were the big name, and correct me if I am wrong, but you had not had a share of the lead until the last hole and you come from behind and caught the young guy trying to make his breakthrough. Did you feel as though emotionally or from an experience point you had an advantage over Ryuji in the playoff? Obviously you have to hit your shot and execute, but in other words, it seems to me you were the big guy, and he was the guy who felt pressure from the big guy he had to play with.
ZACH JOHNSON: You know, I don't know. I obviously can't relay what Ryuji was feeling, but I can tell you that from an experience standpoint, I think there's some truth to that.
Really, after Augusta, I had played at every level, whether it was Ryder Cup, now Presidents Cup of course, all the majors, and I had had some success at all of those levels, so I had seen everything. I think executing shots, like you said, in those scenarios, in those situations, in those arenas, can only make you better for situations like that playoff.
And frankly, I was really comfortable. I think I hit second off the tee but I don't think that mattered to me. Ryuji might have been a little uncomfortable, I don't know. I don't have any idea.
But I do know that I was comfortable with the way I was approaching that hole and the way I was playing golf. And I think you said it. I think you kind of answered your own question. It is about execution, and it's about staying in the moment and throwing the playoff aside and hitting shots at hand, at least that's my opinion on it. Granted, I hit a very similar drive in the playoff as I did in regulation. I hit one club less on my approach shot into 18. I think I hit 4-iron instead of 3-iron. My ball ended up about the same spot, 2-putt.
You know, it was pretty much the same thing in regulation. So I was confident in what I was trying to do.
Ryuji went for it in two obviously and looked like if it would have been about five yards right, probably would have been perfect. He felt like he needed to go for it and had the lie for it and it went for it and it was close and obviously things went in my favor.

Q. You had your first win in AT&T, and then won after winning a major what, does it do for a player once you get that monkey off your back, or winning at that level; does that translate into an instant form of higher level of confidence or less worry about the negatives or more being able to stay in the moment? What does having a win do for you?
ZACH JOHNSON: I think having a win -- any win, for that matter, is huge. Like you said, the confidence that that can bring, certainly confidence in my opinion after time can lead to momentum and momentum is even more potent than confidence.
Winning at Augusta in that sort of field in that arena at that level under those circumstances, you know, just breeds confidence. I played the next week at Hilton Head and it even led into that week. I think I finished probably sixth, in the Top-10, had two weeks off, made the cut in Charlotte and played poorly and then played well at TPC and that led into Atlanta. It's certainly just getting the ball rolling, and I just felt comfortable. And then you get yourself comfortable, you find yourself on a golf course you're comfortable on, you know where to hit and where not to hit it, it can be pretty dangerous.
The week last year in Atlanta was one of my better ball-striking weeks I've ever had. I think that Saturday, I hit 17 or 18 greens and shot like 2- or 3-under and I just didn't make any putts. On Sunday, I remember Saturday afternoon, I just putted, and Sunday, that paid off because I started making some more putts and seeing my score go down, so I think I shot 4- or 5-under the last round.
You know, it is, it's all about confidence, and it's all certainly about making putts when you need to.

Q. Could you talk about putting for a minute? It seems like you putt as well as anybody out there, and when you get hot, you just kind of reel them off. How much putting skill is kind of natural and how much is yours, just getting out there and grinding and working at it?
ZACH JOHNSON: You know, I appreciate you saying that, but I feel like I'm a decent putter at times, maybe streaky at times, too. But consistently it's one of the better parts of my game and I'm still trying to improve in that area. The beginning of this year was pretty poor. My fundamentals were way off and I'm trying to get back to where I need to be and I putted well at Augusta again this year.
I think a lot of it is the surface. If you were to -- I don't know how you would do it, but if you were to look at the TOUR and the players on the TOUR and where they grew up and the type of surface they grew up putting and where they play well now as far as region, I think there will be some parallels there. I think a lot of the West Coast guys, whether or not they live there or on the East Coast, they putt well on the West Coast.
I grew up on bentgrass in the Midwest, just pure park bent, or the course I grew up on, Elmcrest, just pure bent; I tend to putt well on fast greens where there's a lot of break and you can see the line and there's very little grain. One of the reasons I moved to Florida was so I could putt on bermuda and get used to the grain.
I think it's all about being comfortable first and foremost. Like I said when you get on the course, where you like the greens, you can see the line and feel the speed, it's just a dangerous combination.
I think putting well for me is very little thought. It just more or less seeing the track and trying to hit it down that track and hopefully picking it up out of the hole.

Q. Once you start making a few, does it just build on itself, the confidence?
ZACH JOHNSON: Without question. It's a train. It's just a confidence train that -- you know, putting, it should be pretty simple, because it's a very simple motion, but it can beat you up and it can spit you out more or less. It's one of those parts of the game that seems to frustrate players more than any other part.
Most guys on TOUR certainly hit it well. I think the better players even hit it that much better. But what separates guys on TOUR is putting, especially the top guys, they are putting well week-in, week-out. Fundamentals have a lot to do with that, there's no question about that. And putting is also a lot of feel and a lot of trust. The less time you think about it, the more you just trust in what you're doing and see the line, I think the more lethal it can become.

Q. Do you work with anyone on your putting?
ZACH JOHNSON: I do. My swing instructor is Mike Bender down here in Florida, and we work on my putting periodically, especially drills. But when it comes to my fundamentals and setup and all that sort of thing, his name is Pat O'Brien. He's out of Dallas.

Q. We sports reporters tend to look for simple hooks to build our stories around, and we've been talking about confidence, and here it goes, you're going to hear this a lot. You've won three times in the State of Georgia. Do you get more confident in the State of Georgia when you get out in the airport, when you walk out of your hotel when you smell that Georgia air? Everyone is going to be talking about that and writing that; is it a coincidence? Your thoughts?
ZACH JOHNSON: I think it is more the latter. I really do think it's more coincidence, and I say that only because I -- well, I don't know. I wish I could say it was the state, and I'm not diminishing the state. I have a lot of friends in Atlanta and I have a former sponsor outside of Athens. I love the people and I love the state, obviously. I love the golf.
But I think it is more coincidence, and I think if there is any explanation to it, it's as I've said before -- well, I think it's twofold. Augusta is its own -- that's a different situation there. I had a great week. That's what it was. And the greens there are bent, and they are fast, and I love that.
But I think as far as Atlanta, Sugarloaf, AT&T, or even THE TOUR Championship, the greens are bentgrass and they are undulated, just like I putted on when I grew up. So much of it is speed and having some creativity and imagining the putt going in; that's what I'm comfortable with.
So I think it's a comfort level. Outside of that, I think the only other factor that I can throw in, partly with Augusta, but specifically with AT&T is it's that time of year where I start to pick up the pace. If you were to look at my years over the last five or six, seven years, even on mini-tours, April, May, coming in June, is where I really start to pick up and my game starts to peak, if you will, at the time of year. I'm just hoping that peak stays up there for a lengthy period.

Q. Back to putting for a second. If you see a golfer who just takes one or two looks at the line and steps up and strokes it, does he have an advantage over someone who endlessly looks at it?
ZACH JOHNSON: In my opinion, yes. I think the more you -- and everybody is different in this respect. I've seen some guys putt, whatever you want to say, execute their shots well, taking their time and standing over it.
But for me, I would be jittery and it would -- you know, my muscle tension would tighten up and I wouldn't be as loose, and certainly the lack of trust would come through.
So for me, yes, I think it's all about making your decision; in other words, making your decision on the line you want to hit it on, the speed you want to hit it on, before you get to the putt. So you've read it, see your line tracking to the hole and you may take a practice stroke, maybe one, make two, feeling that speed, and then just getting in and going.
The more you can practice that sort of routine and executing the shots in that manner, I think your speed is going to get better and you're going to see the ball travel the line that you see more often; just because you're letting the athleticism and your coordination take over, kind of right-brain I guess, more so than just really analyzing every little grain of grass and every little subtle divot, undulation, whatever the case may be.
Putting is certainly, I think it's about -- well outside of fundamentals, I think it's 80 percent speed and 20 percent line.

Q. Match-play situation, Zach Johnson 2008 and Zach Johnson 2004, who would you favor and why?
ZACH JOHNSON: That's a great question. I think there's positives to both individuals. 2008, there's no question about that. I think first and foremost, the reason being experience; experience both in the highest of levels, the highest of arenas, the most difficult of venues, seeing every situation, being in every sort of situation where you have to execute. I did that in Ryder Cups, Presidents Cups, majors, so the experience level goes there.
And also 2004, I didn't have any match-play experience. My first match play that I ever played as far as as a professional was in 2004. So there's certainly going to be an advantage for the '08 Zach Johnson. And I'm ten pounds heavier and a little bit stronger.

Q. What were your emotions last week at the end of the Masters when you're putting the jacket around Trevor; what were you going through then, and was it a relief or motivation or what was it like?
ZACH JOHNSON: I think it was a little bit of both, that's a great question.
Going into Sunday, I was probably eight shots back, maybe nine shots back -- seven shots back I think. I'm not sure. Anyway, solid round, you never know what can happen. I was like sixth or seventh going into the last day and I still felt like I was in contents.
And playing poorly on Sunday in any major, especially when you're more or less defending kind of stinks, but there was a little bit of relief just knowing that the week is finally over. And I enjoyed every second of it, but it was draining, certainly draining mentally and emotionally at times. Physically I felt pretty good.
I remember we stayed there Sunday night and drove to Hilton Head on Monday, and yeah, I felt like there was a little bit of weight lifted off my shoulders in the fact that I was waiting -- I could not wait to get to Augusta and defend and get to Thursday and more or less just start playing again, because I was just so excited to get there and do it.
And now having it over with, kind of stunk, but at the same time it was nice knowing that I put up a good fight and obviously Trevor, the best man won. When I put the green jacket on him, it wasn't a matter of -- it was maybe a little motivation to play better next year but more than anything, it was just a matter of -- it was an honor, because I'm donning the green jacket on the guy that just won the Masters and played exceptional golf for four days.
I thought more than anything, it was a privilege to be in that sort of situation. I'd like to be on the other side of it, but ...

Q. Must have been an interesting week hosting the dinner. Were you familiar with a lot of the past champions, or were there some you had not been around very much?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, that was an honor, right there, you said it. It was a fantastic evening. I knew every name, there's no question about that. I'm not going to say I'm an historical golf nut, but Masters Tournament, just kind of know the names. I knew every name, recognized a few faces but there was a few that I had not met and certainly did not know.
But getting to know them, it was pretty cool. I think one thing I did take away is a lot of these older guys that are not playing anymore that have won, they come back, they bring their families. It's like a vacation week for them where they can come back and relive their old memories or whatever of playing the Masters and enjoy the week.
I know Billy Casper, for example, he brings his entire family. His family brings their family, grand kids and cousins and everything. It's a big Casper week I guess. So they enjoy coming back and they love meeting the new champions and they love hanging out in the locker room and they love the Tuesday night dinner.
I'm looking forward to that dinner for many, many, many years.

Q. Are you getting recognized more in public when you go out?
ZACH JOHNSON: More often than before, no question about it, yeah. There's times -- depends where I am, what town I'm in, what area, if I'm around golf and what have you.
Around home, yeah, it does happen a lot more frequent went, but it comes with the territory. It comes with the whole media blitz that winning the green jacket and what that provides. At the same time, you know, I can still -- I'm a shorts, t-shirt, a hat and flip-flops guy; so I can walk into the mall and be there for three hours and might have one or two people come up.
It's not a big deal and it's certainly nothing painful in that respect. It's nice and the notoriety is nice, and it's all congratulatory remarks and handshakes, that sort of thing. Very nice having that support.

Q. I wanted to change the subject momentarily, obviously the PGA TOUR does a tremendous amount for charity, all the sponsors, AT&T, and you were talking about coming into contact with some of those charities. Have you ever had moving moments, and wonder if you can share one in a general way or specifically what that means to you?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, I think, yeah, that's a great question. I think first and foremost, I think it it's a good reminder for me. I'm not saying it's needed for everybody, but for me, I need it. And that is the fact that the PGA TOUR, a whole is kind of broken down into four entities, and I don't think one necessarily weighs more than the other.
Granted, the PGA TOUR itself is the flagship, if you will. So that would be us; and then the Nationwide Tour obviously is the developmental tour, but still a great world tour; and obviously the Champions Tour and what those guys are doing out there. But the fourth would be the charity and the giving back, and those are the four icons that you would see on a PGA TOUR letterhead.
So I think having charity as our fourth focus, if you will, outside of the three tours, is important, and I think it is certainly a goal and something that the TOUR always strives to be better in. Obviously tracking that billion dollar mark, and I think it's set to crack 2 billion in 2016, that's impressive. And relative to other sports and having a new stop every week and what these tournaments are able to do and Mr. Kaplan and what he's able to do and everybody, what they are able to do for charities doesn't go unnoticed; it certainly shouldn't, but may not get the recognition it deserves.
Specifically some of the experiences I've had, I mean, we'll start in Atlanta. I remember kids I met there over the last four or five years just going down to Golf in the Garden. We are shuttled down there, really easy, get in, hang out, have some food with them and do some putting. Some of these kids are in wheelchairs and can barely stand up for the time being, yet they want to shake our hands and want to get an autograph, whatever, of a golf ball for them and just try to have a normal two hours at least before they have to go back and do whatever they need to do to get healthy. The stories there are countless.
Outside of that, I think outside of the PGA TOUR and its charities, I think you look at my peers and what they are doing specifically. I have my own charity back in Iowa that my wife and I cosponsor with one of my sponsors, Aegon, where we pick a different beneficiary every year so far, and we are on our fourth year and basically it's called Birdies That Care. For every birdie I make, we donate a certain amount of money to this organization that goes -- and for the most parts, it's kids and it goes to good use. The first year we picked a non-profit community health clinic where they have a number of programs for kids, whether it was just, you know, dental work to eyewear to prescriptions to tennis shoes. It was a pretty wide spectrum there.
The next year we picked a mother's house sort of thing where mothers and their children could come and stay and more or less get their feet back on the ground and they are taken care of. That program was extremely successful.
Last year we picked a place called Tanager Place that dealt with kids that are just very troubled through and through. And this year we are taking the Boys and Girls Club of Cedar Rapids, which is obviously a national organization and very worthy.
I could play in a charity event every Monday or every Tuesday of every week. I think that's just what's impressive about what my peers are doing, what the TOUR is doing and certainly what we can do in golf. I think a lot of my peers are passionate about it because we know we're lucky, we're able to play a game for a living. And you know, chasing a little white golf ball around seems kind of meaningless when you get the experience of meeting kids, or even families and their parents, whatever the beneficiary is or whatever the situation may be, it really putts things in perspective.
And to go back to it, I think the Atlanta Children's Hospital, it's a perfect example of that. The money there goes to phenomenal use, and they are appreciative to have us and we appreciate them to just give us that sense of there's more to life than golf.

Q. Do you especially realize that when you have a child?
ZACH JOHNSON: No question. It hits home pretty hard. You've got that right.

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