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July 11, 2016

Zach Johnson

Troon, South Ayrshire, Scotland

MIKE WOODCOCK: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the 145th Open at Royal Troon. Delighted to be joined today by the 2015 Champion Golfer of the Year, Zach Johnson. Zach, thank you for joining us and coming in. I know this morning you returned the Claret Jug, and I guess a little bit sad to let it go. Can you talk us through your thoughts on coming back here this week as a defending champion.

ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I appreciate that. Yeah, I mean, my thoughts are 100% positive in the sense that, I guess, technically I'm still Champion Golfer of the Year. And then second, since I played in this golf tournament, which was actually here was my first, my love for it was immense and immediate, and it's my favourite to play. I mean, I just I appreciate it, I love it. I think I've embraced it. You have to. I mean, the conditions are what they are.

So, you know, I mean, as my sports psychologist and I, Dr. Mo, have been talking about, it's not like I've got a one- or two-shot lead when I tee it up on Thursday. I've got to get the Claret Jug back, which I did. It was not pleasant, but there's still an opportunity to go out there and play. That's what it is.

Last year was last year, and now we're moving on and shifting on mentally and certainly excited for the week.

Q. Could you tell us what was the last drink you had out of the Claret Jug, and just how much fun you've had with it? What kind of outlandish places you've found yourself with that trophy over the last 12 months?
ZACH JOHNSON: To answer the first part of your question, I'm staying in a house with some buddies and we had a glass of wine out of it -- well, we didn't have a glass of wine; we had wine out of it. It is a Claret decanter, so it serves its purpose in that regard, too.

The second part was what? I'm sorry.

Q. You must have taken it various places. What is the strangest situation you've found?
ZACH JOHNSON: Strangest, I'm not sure. I mean, it was on -- it's been on the football field of Kinnick Stadium in my home state. That's on the 50-yard line. That's probably not normal. My guess is, unless I'm lucky enough to do it again, it probably won't ever happen certainly in my lifetime. Hopefully that happens again, but that's a rare viewing, if you will.

It was at my alma mater. It's been in my hometown a bunch with my foundation, at the club I grew up at. Certainly my entire team has had it, meaning my coaches at their clinics, their academies. When I say they've had it, it wasn't for a day. It was like they had it for two weeks to four weeks.

So I've got to be honest, I probably had the thing for three months, you know, but I've probably been around it for a lot longer than that, because I've been with it as far as where it's been, too.

But at home, it just hasn't been on St. Simons Island that long. But when it was there, it was put to great use. Just seeing family and friends and sponsors and fans of golf embrace it has been pretty awesome. That thing has a lot of, well, weight to it in the sense that it represents golf and sports, as far as I'm concerned.

The stories I've been getting with the individuals that I've entrusted it with, it's been awesome to receive it, but it's been even better to give it back because of the responsibility that comes along with it. And I get it. That makes complete sense. So they've said that, but they've also said, "Yeah, I'll take it back."

It's just so much fun having the ability to have that Claret Jug for a portion of your life.

Q. You mentioned your first Open was in 2004. Just memories of that week and back to your return here, please.
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, well, the memories were brief because I only played two days. But what I do remember -- I don't remember every hole, I certainly remember the postage-stamp hole on No. 8, and I remember 17 and 18 coming in, and a couple of other shots I remember. But my main memory was it was immediate, certainly my love for it, but more than that, it was immediate -- two things: What it kind of required out of me. You know, I think this tournament, especially when I leave it, it magnifies my weaknesses more than any other tournament, but it also magnifies your strengths. And I say that because you have to have every shot. I mean, yeah, clearly you've got to hit it low in the Open Championship or links golf, but you've got to hit high, too. I mean, you've got to get that ball in the air. You've got to use the wind. You've got to fight the wind depending on the situation. So you've got to use sort of every shot in your arsenal, and that was immediate. I could tell right off the bat. Part of it is just the lies you have. They're so tight, so you have to be crisp and precise. And I think that's perfect.

Then the second thing, I remember the fans, too. Man, I hadn't played much over here prior to that at all, really. And just the knowledge and the wisdom they have for this game, you can tell. Yeah, take the postage-stamp hole. You hit it to 15 feet there, 20 feet with a sand wedge, that's a good shot, or 8-iron depending upon the wind. And there is still a pretty stout round of applause. Maybe not the best example, but my point is, they just get it. They get this game. We're also in Scotland where it was designed and formed, so maybe there are a lot of parallels as to why.

Those two things stand out. And the fact that it's right here on the coast and it's Royal Troon. I remember Todd Hamilton winning, obviously. We were rookies the same year on the PGA TOUR. I think he maybe played a couple Opens prior to that, but I remember using a hybrid from 220 and a hybrid from about 20. So those are the kind of memories I have, yeah.

Q. I wanted to ask you two questions: One, when you close your eyes and think about Sunday of last year --
ZACH JOHNSON: Monday or Sunday?

Q. Sorry, Monday of last year. What first comes to mind? And then I had a follow-up question after that.
ZACH JOHNSON: What first comes to my mind would be probably everything that happened after the 18th hole and the playoff because that was when the emotions were heightened. Obviously joy and all that but awe. Just the fact that -- I'm still in awe as to what transpired. Having Mr. Dawson hand over that piece of silver is something I'll never forget.

Then so many other things. I mean, certainly my wife being there because she doesn't come very often with three little ones. She comes occasionally, but it's not every year, but she did come that year. That kind of thing is going to be cemented in my mind.

Seeing some, I mean, granted, Jordan came out and gave me a hug. That was pretty cool. I won't forget that, being a good friend. Quite frankly, also getting pretty sincere, what I feel sincere handshakes from Marc Leishman and Louie Oosthuizen, just, you could tell -- I mean, I don't know, they were dejected and probably not feeling great, but at the same time genuinely happy for me, and they're good friends. So I think that's the beauty of the game. Pretty classy. I'm not surprised because like I said, they're quality individuals. But everything that transpired after that 18th green in the playoff.

I mean, I remember some shots, I'm not going to lie to you there, but that's not what stands out. Unfortunately, the shots I do remember were like the bogey on 17 and the other bogey on 13 more so than the birdies. Maybe that's just the nature of a golfer. But a lot of positives.

Q. If you don't mind me asking about the other Johnson.

Q. Yeah. There are different ways to win, as you've shown. How does he win? How have you seen the evolution of his game?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I mean, there's not an individual here, I'm assuming my peers and then you guys, that are very surprised by what's going on. He's a supreme athlete and it just so happens that his sport for all of us, unfortunately, is golf. Very talented. I mean, we talk about his prowess, which there's not that many guys that can do what he does. But there are some guys that essentially can hit his shots. I don't know how many there are. Probably ten on Tour it seems like. That's probably maybe a bad number.

But what stands out to me is his short game's way better than people give him credit. He's won a lot of golf tournaments and put himself in position in a lot of majors, and for him to come through the way he did given all the circumstances surrounding that was beyond impressive. I mean, I think just unfortunately with what's going on now is that when you think about it, everybody talks about the issues at hand with that tournament rather than the fact that he striped a drive on 18 and hit it whatever he hit, 6-iron, 7-iron to three feet on a hole that you don't hit a 6-iron or 7-iron three feet. Now granted, he had some shots to give, I get that. But I don't care, it's still the 18th hole at a major. That was impressive.

Then to follow it up in Akron is just very, very good. I mean, I don't know how else to really word it. Maybe he's starting to figure out how to win more so than he did before. I don't know. But, again, I'm not shocked or surprised by the situation. He's just very good at the game of golf, and it sounds like everything outside the ropes has got some stability and he's got a good family and that kind of thing.

He knows it. I'm one of his biggest fans. I just like watching him play golf. There are only so many guys you can watch. He's one you can watch.

Q. Can you tell us, please, when you gave the trophy back, which day? Was it Saturday or was it yesterday? To whom did you give it? Was it actually to Martin Slumbers? And then the third thing is you told us in May that you had slept on the plane cradling the trophy. You didn't by any chance sleep on the plane cradling the trophy on the way back, did you?
ZACH JOHNSON: The second part, no. The latter, no, I did not. No, the quarters were a little tight, so I needed my rest to try to get here. No, I did not sleep on the way here.

I gave the Claret Jug back within the last hour.

Q. To Martin Slumbers?
ZACH JOHNSON: To Mr. Slumbers, yes. Yeah, it was, well, something I'll never forget, yeah.

Q. Did you give it one last touch?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I kind of did that at home. I kind of parted ways emotionally with it at home, so once I got to the formalities of it, it really wasn't that difficult. I practised. No, I'm just kidding, that's not true (laughing). Yeah, but it was bittersweet. Bittersweet. More sweet, but the fact that you've got to give it back, you know it's coming. I guess a portion of that sweetness is you still have an opportunity to get it back yourself.

Q. Some guys like to play the week before a major and some like to rest. How have you prepared for this? And do you have a set pattern for every major that you play?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, well, typically -- the Olympics has obviously thrown a wrench in our schedule. That's not your question, so I'm not going to elaborate on that. So typically before the Open Championship I play in the John Deere Classic. It's about an hour from where I grew up and it's one of my favourites. I mean, I'm on the board of the tournament. They're a sponsor of mine. They help my foundation out, et cetera, so I play that week at home.

The other majors typically, the Bridgestone is the week before the PGA Championship, so I usually play that. The US Open, it's hit and miss as to whether or not I play. Memphis is typically the FedEx Classic or whatever it's called is usually the week before, and I've played in that probably a handful of times. I usually decide based on the golf course we're going to play, whether or not I've seen it in the US Open or whether or not it fits -- Memphis is Bermuda, fast and hard, so if it fits. Like, for example, Pinehurst, I played that when we were at, was that '14? Yeah, 2014, I played Memphis.

Augusta, I typically do not. I mean, granted, it's the one major where we play the same venue every year, so I feel like I know how to prepare for that in a way that gets me, well, prepared, ready. That's always been when I stay at home and kind of get up there a little bit early.

Q. Have you ever played links in Ireland?
ZACH JOHNSON: Excuse me?

Q. Have you played links in Ireland?
ZACH JOHNSON: No, but I know I'm going to in '19. '19, right? Sorry, Northern Ireland. I don't want to cause a rift here. But I'm excited about that.

Actually speaking with Darren yesterday evening, obviously, his love for links golf and any golf in the U.K. is immense, and he's like, Zach, it's going to be one, if not your favourites. I said, Hey, I've got a lot to -- I mean, I don't have a ranking of golf courses in my mind, right. But a lot of the top courses I've ever played have been in this tournament. And he's like, "It's going to shoot right up there." So I'm pretty ecstatic about that.

To further your question, I've played over there twice. It was, well, the Ryder Cup. What was that, K Club, right? Arnold Palmer course, I think. And I played a Jack Nicklaus course or something. I don't know what it was, World Golf Championship or something. That was a long time ago. 12, 13 years ago, probably, but I loved it. Man, I mean, I love that country.

Again, the fans. That's really what I remember. Their knowledge and just their embrace of you as a player was pretty awesome.

Q. How exciting is it at the moment to be involved in this group of players who are all doing well? We had previously the Tiger era where everyone looked to him, but now you've got yourself Dustin, you've got Jason, Jordan, Rory, all gunning for it at the same time. Does that make it more exciting?
ZACH JOHNSON: I don't know if it makes it more exciting. I just think it's evolved. It's changed. I think the game has always been -- I mean, I'm biassed because I play it, and I'm a member of the PGA TOUR. But I just think it's ever evolving, and in a positive manner, too. The individuals you just mentioned are kind of carrying that torch right now and doing a very good job of doing that. They're quality, quality players, but I think they're probably even -- definitely, I know they are, quality people and they get it.

I mean, I'm Tiger's age so it's not like I looked up to him when I came out here. They looked up to him before they got on the PGA TOUR. I get that. The role models I had, some of them are still playing, but most of the them are on the Champions Tour now and I played with a lot of those guys, right. Those are the guys I bounced questions off of and looked to for advice.

Selfishly I wish they could all experience kind of what Tiger did, at least for a period, how he truly just dominated, and they may. Who knows? Tiger's the best player I've ever seen. So to say that he can't do it again, I don't know. But I know that I'm getting older, and I know it's been not becoming any easier. I just hope he gets healthy and we'll see what transpires there.

But going back to just the gist of your question, the game is in a great state. Great, young talents carrying it and pushing it. I don't know if there's a ceiling, but if there is, it seems like it's being nudged a little bit higher month after month, year after year, both in the states and abroad. I mean, Rory, obviously, J Day. Man, there are a lot of guys, shoot, that I'm aware of and you may be, too, that have that potential too. So good, good stuff.

Q. Is it possible for someone to do what Danny Willett did to break into that sort of (no microphone)?
ZACH JOHNSON: Oh, for sure. If you're talking about winning majors, without question. It's one week. I'm not suggesting it's easy, but it's one week. You're going to see some individuals -- I don't think we've seen the end of Danny Willett. My guess is if anything, something like that, there are other examples, too, where that just gives you a little more confidence and hunger and motivation. So once you taste it, you want more of it.

It took me eight years, I guess, but I knocked on the door a few times. It's just hard. There's only four a year, so you've got to make the best of your opportunities. You've got to get some good bounces, good breaks, some lip-ins instead of lip-outs, and there are only so many things that go along with that. So the ones that win multiple and win year after year, they're just -- some things are just a little more polished than the others. That's why I go back to, I wish they could experience what Tiger did for what seemed to be a decade to almost 12 years. But it is what it is.

Q. You touched on the Olympics. I'll just ask the question: As we get ready to set the field sort of today and who is going and who's not going. How much, with all the guys that have pulled out, is that going to hurt the return to golf in Rio? Also, where does, in your mind, where is the Olympics going to -- if golf stays in the Olympics, where is the Olympics going to be in the hierarchy of majors and Ryder Cups? And finally, anything you'd like to change with the schedule going forward to 2020 to make things better than they were this year?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, it's hard to really say because it is the first year it's come back in over a century, right? Almost a century.

MIKE WOODCOCK: 112 years.

ZACH JOHNSON: So 1904. So it's hard to say. To put it into words where it will fall in the hierarchy, only time will tell. It's kind of like how we implemented the FedExCup. How's that going to work? Will it fit in? Is there motivation? Is there going to be any tradition? And it's still yet to be seen. I mean, the Olympics to me it's certainly the premier event when it comes to a lot of different sports. I think a lot of fans have passions for certain sports. However, it's not like you're setting your DVR to catch the local archery tournament or diving or swimming.

My point in saying that is every four years that's when I don't miss it. To me those sports should be at the forefront, wrestling, all those sports that just don't get the recognition that I'd say the mainstream sports get. Those athletes that train, essentially, for three-plus years for that one opportunity and one week. If anything, I've been watching the trials in the States, and it's sad seeing the ones that don't make the teams because they've put, essentially a lot of them are only like 16 years old, but three years of work into that one week. But that's also the beauty of it, too. That's what attracts those stories or attracts viewership and fans.

To me, I don't know if golf -- obviously, it has its place in the Olympics now. I don't know if personally it needs to be in there, maybe is the right way to say it. We're relevant 24/7, 365, for the most part, if that's your barometer and criteria, relevancy. Specifically the athletes that play this game are relevant a lot of the year. My guess is fans are not going to -- well, I shouldn't say that. I think fans really look forward to the majors and certainly the cups, the Ryder Cup in particular. I know as a player, those are my motivations. I didn't dream of winning a gold medal in golf as a kid. It wasn't an option. But if it was, I don't know. There is so much that goes into that. I don't have any idea.

Yeah, I don't know. I love the athletes and sports that just don't get the recognition like the other sports do. Again, you can argue basketball, and shoot, even soccer. Do they really need to be in there? My guess is they want a World Cup before they want a gold medal. They'd want an NBA championship before they want a gold medal. I would assume. Maybe bad assumptions, but a lot of basketball players are not playing. They're tired right now. That's a very valid excuse because of what they've put in the entire year for their team.

So, it's unfortunate, but it's just the way it is. It seems to me like looking on social media, looking at stories, vignettes, documentaries on ESPN or any channel for whatever, NBC, you can see the passion for the Olympics is there, pretty much regardless of any sport, but especially the ones that are just not mainstream, and I love that. That's what you want to see.

I don't know if the fields going to be -- I mean, we're seeing a lot of dropouts. We maybe will see some more. I don't know the criteria or timeline on that. But I get it. It's unfortunate in that regard, but it's also where we are right now. Hopefully it doesn't detract away from anything else at the Olympics.

Q. What about the schedule?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I don't know. That's the thing, it's the Summer Olympics, right? So personally, I don't like it, the fact that it jumbles everything together. There's not many positives for us. It's really hard to navigate when you have major after major after major and very little time off. If I was 23 I'd maybe think differently. It may not be that big of a deal, but I'm 40. So that's just my opinion.

I think we have a pretty awesome incentive at the end of the year and something that's growing in the FedExCup, too. And then a week later is the Ryder Cup. I mean, no offense to the Olympics but I'd rather be on the Ryder Cup team personally. That's just as an athlete and as a golfer, as an American golfer, I have that opportunity and that's what I would rather. I'd rather be on the Ryder Cup team and try to help our nation out there. But that's just me.

Q. You mentioned your team earlier. I'm curious ahead of a week like this, what kind of conversations do you have with Dr. Mo about gearing yourself up mentally for the tough conditions? Secondly, do you consider yourself to be a good mudder?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, we haven't had many discussions yet on the competition. I mean, granted, well, shoot, in the last five days the forecast has changed dramatically, and my guess is it could change again, wind and rain. So once what we kind of get a good picture as to what we're about ready to navigate, then we'll start really hashing out kind of a game plan and mental strategies and that kind of thing. If anything, what we've discussed is actually parting ways with the Claret Jug and controlling my emotions that way. But as you said, use it as a positive, find motivation there, find it as an opportunity.

I don't really need inspiration or motivation to play in this golf tournament. This is one of the highlights on my calendar every year and always has been, prior to even winning it, certainly.

Q. The conditions as a mudder?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, mudder. I think that, I'm not saying it defines me, but I think I fall into that category. I grind it out, I mud it out, yeah. That's all I know. Maybe it's where I grew up in the sense that the weather's not always terrific in Iowa. I don't know why. But maybe it's something just innately in me. I enjoy and love embracing difficult, challenging conditions. It's just something that I consider part of my talent, if that makes sense.

Q. Does a links course in general, this course in particular, do anything to negate the strengths of the long hitters like DJ, Rory, Jason Day? Does it bring them back at all?
ZACH JOHNSON: I feel like I get that question a lot, probably because I don't fall into that category. I don't know if there's any course that negates that, because I just think it's a weapon you have in your arsenal that you can use when given the opportunity. I don't know.

You look at Akron. It's not a short golf course, per se, but the fairways run there. There's usually pretty good rough. The trees are not getting any smaller right there next to the fairway, and Dustin hit driver a lot. And his driver goes further than my driver, if you guys were aware of that.

My point is that it just depends on how you're feeling. If you feel like it's a club where you can kind of give yourself an advantage, then you use it.

They have gears to those -- a lot of those guys have gears when it comes to their driver. I have a gear. It's just always right there. I just try to hit it as hard as I can pretty much every time for the most part.

So I don't know. Links, I get where you're coming from. Yes, you do have to know how to navigate and kind of plot your way around these courses, especially when it's dry. I don't know if we're going to see a dry golf course this week in as far as just being brown. It's pretty wet out there right now for this kind of turf. It still rolls. It's hard packed ground. I like it dry. I think it suits my game better. So I don't know if it necessarily negates anything. I just think the beauty of this tournament and this style of links golf is you've got to have everything. You've got to hit your driver high. You've got to hit it low. You've got to hit it left. You've got to hit it right. And that goes with every golf club in your bag. You've got to hold it, you've got to use the wind. You've got to do everything. The greens are not fast, and everyone's like, "Well, it's probably easy to putt." They're not easy to putt. There are subtle breaks. A solid putt typically gets rewarded whether it's on a speed or whether it's a four-footer. I just think it's beautiful in that regard.

It's not rocket science out there. It's what you see is what you get, tee it up. I mean, there is an element of fortuitous, I don't know if "luck" is the right word, but good breaks as to when your tee times could be. Everybody talks about that. It's like, man, you get the good end of the wave. I'm like, well, is it any different in the States teeing off at 7:30 or 2:00? It could be the same thing. That's just golf.

But this tournament more than any, I think it's purity.

MIKE WOODCOCK: Zach, thank you for joining us this afternoon, and very best of luck this week.

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