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April 4, 2016
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We are pleased to have with us today the 2007 Masters Champion, Zach Johnson.
This marks Zach's 12th year competing at Augusta National. Zach enters this year's tournament after earning his second major title at the 2015 British Open. With a final round 6‑under at St. Andrews, Zach earned a spot in a four‑hole playoff where he would go onto win and claim the Claret Jug.
Zach tied for ninth last year at the Masters, his best finish at Augusta National since he won in the green jacket.
Before we take some questions, Zach, can you tell us how your game is?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, sure. Thank you for the remarks.
Yeah, my game feels good. It's always, everybody talks about, well, when do you start thinking about Augusta, when do you start preparing for Augusta, and I think if anybody says, well, we're just playing this week for this week, they are kidding themselves. Because you're always trying to prepare.
I've seen some nice trajectory, if you will, with my game over the last few weeks. Specifically with my putter but then also with my ball‑striking. Changing equipment after last year, it takes a bit of time to kind of get the bag situated, but I'm very encouraged about what I have in there and where I'm going. It's just a matter of time. It's a process, and being patient is probably the operative word there.
But like I said, I like the trajectory of my game and I certainly‑‑ regardless of how my game is coming into this week, it's the Masters. I mean, it's not hard to get pumped up and in that competitive spirit to play here, so, excited.
Q. When do you start thinking about the Masters? (Laughter).
ZACH JOHNSON: Usually after I finish the 18th hole on Sunday here, ideally.
Q. I have a real question.
ZACH JOHNSON: Oh, that wasn't your question.
Q. Total sarcasm. Sorry you didn't detect that. There's talk every year from how the golf changes from Monday afternoon to the first round on Thursday. To what degree does that occur and what changes are there other than the speed of the greens?
ZACH JOHNSON: It's really hard to get completely specific on what transpires. This is not anything out of the ordinary, it's pretty obvious. I played with Kevin Kisner yesterday. Kevin lives 20 minutes from here in Aiken. We're good friends. We've been over here probably a handful of times anywhere in the last ten days ago to two months ago, so he's played a lot. We played the front nine and we had a little game. Let's just say, he was surprised about having five to eight feet after his first putt on every hole.
When it comes to Masters week, there is a progression. There is‑‑ with the greens, in particular, that they just seem to get ‑‑ that roll‑out just comes out a little bit more. And it may not be a drastic cut or roll difference, but it's just there's more, a couple more feet of roll‑out on putts.
It starts kind of Saturday, Sunday, the week before the tournament, in my opinion, and then it kind of rolls into the week. Now, I feel like there's been weeks where Monday, Tuesday, they are so fast, and then by Thursday, Friday, well, yeah, they are gettable. But it could be two things. One, they may not be as fast. Two, I may just be getting used to the greens, which is probably the operative or the answer there.
I think the cuts around the greens, sometimes they get a little more tight, like especially behind greens like 13 or even 12. You're chipping and you're like, man, I can get this up‑and‑down with a wedge. Come Thursday, Friday, you're like, may want that putter.
It's all those things that make this place beautiful. The thing I've said the last couple years, and it's just kind of hit me and it's the biggest compliment I can give this place; it's one of, if not the most ‑‑ and you will have a putt to make it. If you hit it online, it will go in. If you hit it here, you will not get it up‑and‑down.
So it's pure. That's the best thing you can say about it.
Q. Given that and given the changes from Thursday to Sunday and from 2007 to now, does that change your game plan, your approach? Of course you famously won in 2007, laying up on the par 5s.
ZACH JOHNSON: Right. You know, I think 2007, well, I don't know if "anomaly" is the right word, but just a rare year. We had‑‑ I don't know what the highest temperature was that week. Practice rounds, it was probably the mid‑60s. I don't think we even saw maybe 60 degrees at some point Thursday through Sunday. So totally different golf course. I shot 1‑over. It's rare to see that. And we could some given year, but ideally not.
The golf course, I don't feel like it's changed that much. I think the individual that you need to ask those questions, and I'm not sure he‑‑ I don't know what he'd say, is probably Chairman Billy Payne. But it seems like, oh, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 it was here, it was going this way, brought it in a little bit.
I don't see it. I don't physically see it. It's one of those things where, I remember the wind and the cold in 2007 and I shot 1‑over, but it's hard to fathom that somebody got to 20‑under, and that's still mind‑boggling to me. I played really good on the weekend last year, I don't know how many under I was, 7‑ to 10‑under probably, and played great golf on the weekend. But it's just still, that was‑‑ I don't know how many 20‑unders we're going to see. I don't think we're going to see too many 1‑overs. It's going to be in between.
I will say the last five to seven years, what's great about Augusta National, it feels like we have, and we are seeing more of it, granted, because of the personnel and the players playing, we have really good drama on the back nine, specifically on Sunday.
Q. So are you saying conditions will dictate?
ZACH JOHNSON: Rain dictates a lot. Wind is probably the biggest factor in all of that, whether they are gusty or whether it's lack of wind. I mean, it depends on the situation. To me it's conditions that aren't controllable. The golf course is so perfect that it's just a matter what have we get when we tee it up.
There's some days where you feel like you've got to get it. You've got a little bit of rain at night. You have maybe a half an inch to an inch. That half an inch to an inch of rain, I know there's devices to get rid of saturation, I get that, but there's only so much you can do.
Supposedly there was four inches of rain the latter part of last week, and I played here Sunday‑‑ there was some holes in the greens with your shots, but they were still fast and firm. Yeah, they know what they're doing here.
Q. You had more than your share of years playing mini‑tours and scrounging and coming up through the ranks a little bit. What example does a guy like Jim Herman, 38 years old, to do what he does, what example does that set for anybody who is out there right now playing the Tar Heel Tour or something?
ZACH JOHNSON: It's a beautiful story, it's a beautiful example of perseverance and patience, stick‑to‑itiveness, as they say. Just trusting in what you're doing and really‑‑ I'm assuming he's a journeyman more or less. I don't know how many years he's been on Tour. I don't know him all that well. The conversations I've had with him, he's been great.
The beauty of his story is you see any mini‑tour kid or somebody that doesn't have all the accolades, they watch his last four or five, five or six holes, it wasn't given to him. You know what I mean? He went out and got it.
If anything, he knew how to win on mini‑tours and he's known how to win in college and now he's starting to see that and obviously win on the PGA TOUR. I think it's just an awesome story. It doesn't matter where you win. There's good players everywhere, regardless of their level.
There's going to be more stories like Jim Herman, I hope. Whether you're 25, 38 or 47, it doesn't matter. You can still win on the PGA TOUR.
Q. When you were trying to move up through the ranks and get out of mini‑tours and get to the Web.com Tour, what kept you going? When you got a little discouraged, what would keep you going?
ZACH JOHNSON: My discouragement was brief in the sense that I just felt, you know what, I feel like this is what I'm supposed to do. I've seen progress and improvement every year.
And truly, I can give you a long answer to that and it would be boring. The bottom line is, is that's when I really started to formulate my team with my swing coach Mike Bender and my manager, Brad, and obviously I got married and it's just a lot of people instrumental and trusting in me and certainly encouraging me.
I didn't want to go get a real job. And when that improvement stopped, then I would have reconsidered, but that improvement never stopped. Whether it was on the golf course or off the golf course, there was always improvement.
Q. You spoke about your round with Kevin Kisner, he said he wanted to pick your brain a little bit. What's it like to be that guy that now sometimes gets that‑‑
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, it just means I'm old. But I liked Kevin Kisner's wallet (laughter).
It's great, because I'm sitting up here, this is my 12th Masters, I think. I've been on TOUR, I think, 13 and a half years now. I mean, I had individuals that I went to, whether it was at Augusta for the Masters or whether it was at‑‑ you know, regardless of the tournament, whether it was Davis Love or Tom Lehman before that even, some of the wise guys, I would say, veterans, Corey Pavin, Jeff Sluman, the guys that paved the way for me, those are the guys I consulted with.
For someone young, and Kevin, he's young, 31, maybe, that's a young guy and he's asking me questions about pin placements and what do you do here and that kind of thing. It's great. It's not like I knew everything. So you want to help him out. They are good kids. They are good guys for the game. I mean, why not.
Q. Where do you keep the Claret Jug at home and how much of a lift seeing that before you come here gives you this week?
ZACH JOHNSON: I saw the Claret Jug last night for the first time in a long time. My team, if you will, of individuals, guys that I certainly trust, coaches, whatnot, individuals that I feel like are a part of it, have had it. So the way I see it, that's what it's all about.
I did get it back this past evening. One of the individuals is here today, in the room. That's what it's about. I want it to be shared. I might try to introduce it to Mr.Green Jacket, if you will. That's probably a rare thing. I don't know history all that well but my guess is that doesn't happen that often. I'm sure Tiger did it, you know, 12 times it seems like.
Point is, my family and I try to orchestrate something like that. It's a beautiful trophy. You're talking about two of the biggest, iconic symbols in sports. To have that honor to don the green jacket and drink out of the Claret Jug is pretty special.
Q. Does it give you a lift coming in this week knowing you won it last year?
ZACH JOHNSON: Staring at that thing and touching it gives you a lift. We might have at dinner last night, yeah.
Q. Is the amount of prep work and the type of prep work different here than at other majors?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yes and no. The answer I would give you in most instances, I try to prepare each week for what it is. Certain golf courses lend it to this and certain golf courses you have to work on that, which is the right answer. You still just want to play.
But this is the one major where we play at the same site every year. So I feel like I don't need to play‑‑ I oftentimes like to play into the week. So typically I'll play, whatever, the British Open before the PGA Championship, that kind of thing, occasionally the U.S. Open.
This one, I take the week off, because what I do at home, the golf course there, the superintendent, what he does to the course, the practice area, it's not Augusta, but we make it extreme, and that helps when I get here. It's still not Augusta. I mean, the bottom line is we're talking about this, my caddie and I and another player were saying, you can prepare all you want and you get here and you say, there's nothing like it. There is nothing like it; that's the beauty of it.
When I get here, though, certainly got to work on my ball‑striking, everybody does. But the focus is going to be on the greens and around the greens, which is as it should be.
Q. What do you do to make it extreme?
ZACH JOHNSON: Very, very tight lies around the greens and fast greens. He had our practice putting green rolling over 14, and he took a lot of the grain out. Different type of grass, but speed's speed. He actually did some other things around the greens to try to mimic here, but it was even more extreme. I told him, "John, this is actually a bit much." But why not make it hard. As we alluded to earlier why in one of the first questions, as the week goes on, it doesn't get any easier.
Q. You said if you hit it in the right spot, it's going to go where you want it to. If it's wrong‑‑ how long did it take you to get come for terrible around here, or do you think if you lax up a little bit and lose your focus it crushes you?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yes to your last question. If you're not mentally prepared for it, the pin placement is there, the wind is here, you have to land it there, yeah, it bites you. Am I feeling comfortable? I'm still not comfortable. There are certain things that are just difficult.
But you know it. It's a major. I will say, the comfort level will certainly increase since I first played here. I remember playing here my rookie year, my rookie Augusta year, Masters year, and I played‑‑ which is great. I don't know if it's strategy with the membership and those that make the pairings, but I got to play with Mark O'Meara, a former champion, a guy I adore and love to be around. I hit it as good as he did, maybe a little bit better. I don't know, you have to go back and look. I know I hit the 80 mark at one point Thursday, Friday, and he made the cut by two or three or four shots.
If he missed it, he missed it in the proper spot and could get it up‑and‑down and he putted terrific, but he's a terrific putter. When he had the opportunity to be somewhat aggressive and get after a pin, he did. Ultimately, a lot of times he capitalized. I learned a lot right there. It's just a place that you get your feet on it more, the better it is. And I don't care if it's last November, January, the more you can get your feet on these grounds as a player, the better it can be.
Q. Just to clarify, you can't take the green jacket off property now, so this is the only week you could have that photo op?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
Q. So that's what you plan to do at some point?
ZACH JOHNSON: Potentially.
Q. And secondly, how difficult is it to make an equipment change, how scary is that?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, scary, certainly wouldn't be something I would‑‑ the due diligence I put in and the work I put in before I ultimately made the decision was pretty extensive. It's not‑‑ I think I'm at the point in my career where I'm not making any decisions based on, let's say, business sense, economics. That's not a part of the equation. I'm going to make a decision where I feel that, dog‑gone it, 40 years old, I feel like I can get better, and that's really what it is.
It is a process. I've enjoyed learning and changing and trying to figure out what works best for me. You know, I think my golf swing is one where it's pretty simple, so it's a matter of just finding and fine‑tuning a little here and there, nothing significant. The transition overall, if anything, depending on what aspect of the game they are talking about is actually happening a lot faster than I anticipated.
So there's still things, clubs I'm incorporating, as time has gone on. I feel like I know what I have in my bag right now is great. But maybe it can get better. I think the passion this company PSG has in a collaborative effort with Titleist, the golf ball I use, is a great tandem and I'm excited for the future.
Q. The green jacket, arguably the most prized possession in all of sports. What are your favorite memories associated with the green jacket?
ZACH JOHNSON: Favorite memories of the green jacket. Well, first putting it on would be No. 1. That's one that will never‑‑ a memory that I will never forget.
I had a four‑month‑old child, my first‑born at the time and we did a picture session with him kind of draped in it at home. That's something he obviously doesn't remember but we'll never forget. If anything, kind of like the Claret Jug, sharing it with others. Now the beauty with the Claret Jug is you can drink out of it, but not everybody is a 40 reg. Now they can touch the green jacket, but there's some individuals in my family but they can't put it on.
It goes without saying, it's very recognized. Whether it was a charity event or maybe a corporate event with some of my sponsors and good friends, that's when I was able to wear it and put it on and let them see it, and the awe factor came in. It's not me; it's the jacket. That's what's cool and it always will be, kind of like the Claret Jug. There's no one player above the jacket and the jug.
I'm still in awe and pinching myself knowing I've got two, or one of each.
Q. And the Champions Dinner, which you'll be attending this week, and of course you've got to attend it as the champion, when are your memories associated with preparing the menu and hosting the event and it all being on you?
ZACH JOHNSON: It's fun. I didn't know the protocol until after I had won the green jacket, and once we got some communication going, and, hey, you've got to pick the menu. I'm a guy that sees food, eats food. I'm not picky but I don't want to present something to the other gentlemen in the room that's not good.
It was one where it was kind of collaborative in the sense that I chose some foods from where I'm from in Iowa, which is pretty basic, good beef. Sweet corn was out of season, so we did a corn casserole. And my wife is from Amelia Island outside of Jacksonville, kind of a shrimp place and we did some seafood and made a surf and turf.
But that evening, I don't know if you want to say highlight on the calendar but it's something that, again, you can't really put into words unless you witness it. It's very, very special. And it can be an hour, an hour and a half; it could be two, 2 1/2 hours depending what's going on. But being hosted by last year's champion, Chairman Payne, and our emcee and host, Ben Crenshaw, that guy does an unbelievable job. He tells me, he's nervous every year, and I tell you, that man could run a company. He seems like he's so with it. He's prepared. He makes it very enjoyable.
Those iconic names around that table and being a part of that to a degree is beyond special.
Q. We have a young man playing this week who won the Amateur and NCAA last year and plays the same‑length clubs. Have you tried that and what do you think of the theory behind that?
ZACH JOHNSON: I'm probably not the one to ask. I've never tried it. I don't know the theory or physics behind it, sorry.
I know Bryson. I did a speaking engagement last year, and I guess we've been around each other once or twice, two or three times. Seems like a great kid.
Q. It's often said the Masters doesn't begin until the back nine on Sunday. How does the atmosphere change?
ZACH JOHNSON: It's an aura about it. It's really hard to pinpoint. It's something intangible. Something that especially if there's multiple names up towards the top, you just feel like there's something that's going to happen and it just does.
But I think more times than not, this was a tournament where the field does separate itself in the sense that you're playing good and you'll rise to the top. Typically it's the best players that do get there at some point. When you have the best players in the world playing the back nine at Augusta on Sunday, the best comes out and that's what we've seen throughout the years, obviously in 1986, 1997. You see it every year, for the most part.
I don't know what it is about that side, but it just brings the best and sometimes the worst out in everybody.
Q. What are your thoughts on the possible changes coming to 13?
ZACH JOHNSON: You'll have to elaborate. 13 here? Oh, oh, oh‑‑ no, I'm sorry. I know what you're talking about.
I don't really have an opinion. I don't want to speculate based on rumor, either. I'm indifferent. To me, whatever has happened here, a change or a push or a massage, I feel it's always in the best interests of everybody, so it will be great. I don't know. I don't want to speculate.
Q. Before Jim's win on Sunday, we were on a run of a lot of major champions winning over the last several weeks. In fact, a bunch of Masters, winners, as well. Does that matter?
ZACH JOHNSON: No. You have to go back and look at cycles but I don't think it does. Kind of like the question, hey, the American Team is playing really good going into The Ryder Cup. Doesn't matter. You'd have to really dig into numbers and history and I certainly don't want to do that. It doesn't surprise me that the individual has won one. Doesn't surprise me anybody wins out here, they are all good out here. I wouldn't read too much into it personally.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports