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July 9, 2019

Zach Johnson

Silvis, Illinois

DOUG MILNE: We'd like to welcome the 2012 John Deere Classic winner, among many other things associated with the John Deere Classic, Zach Johnson. Thanks for joining us for a few minutes. It feels honestly just like yesterday that I was sitting up here with you talking about your 17th consecutive start in the event and so forth. Obviously a real ambassador for the tournament. We'll talk certainly about that, but how about just a quick update on yesterday and how your event went yesterday.

ZACH JOHNSON: Well, thanks. Yeah, this weekend was once again tremendous. Certainly brought great awareness, and I think we were able to convey exactly why we do what we do for the community of Cedar Rapids. Kids On Course is making ridiculous strides, and it's been one of the most humbling endeavors I've ever been associated with certainly, maybe outside of having my own kids.

It's also been, without question, probably one of the most rewarding things I've ever been associated with.

But really no surprises in the sense -- I'm kind of surprised how it's grown so fast, but no surprises as far as accomplishing great things because we've got great people doing great things. You know, joining and partnering up with the school district and certainly the community and all of our local companies and families that have joined us. It's been absolutely fantastic. And like I said, this weekend was great. Brought in 19 peers of mine, I think it was, so we had 20 TOUR pros, because I was there. And then a bunch of celebrity types. So it was great. The feedback was great, the weather was great, and what a cool thing to be able to do because of a little white golf ball. A lot of fun.

DOUG MILNE: We talked last year about all the statistics and numbers and how impressive your performance has been over the years here. Just some thoughts on being back here again this year.

ZACH JOHNSON: I like routine. I like familiarity. I like kind of getting back into sort of a groove, and this has always been a place that's kind of helped me get to that point. Very familiar, very excited. I mean, I love everything about this week, this tournament, this golf course, the people, and certainly what this tournament does for the -- I guess the greater Quad City community. I am ecstatic to be back.

Q. Doug talked about all the stats over the years here, but just from an emotional standpoint, you're on the board of directors here, but you're still fully capable of shooting lights-out and winning this tournament. Can you talk about that special feeling about coming back here knowing it's somewhere you've had success and can still win the trophy?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, the realist in me understands that if I come back here and don't play great, it's not going to do anything to me, or the community still rallies behind me, which is awesome. Iowa seems to rally behind me, which is tremendous, and I love supporting and being part of this great event because I know what their priority is. I know that tomorrow is the biggest day of the week. I know that in the end when they drive around and hand out checks, they do it with smiles and with a humble heart. The realist in me understands that.

The competitor in me, which is a lot of me, still feels like, hey, this is a week that I can go out and win, and that's my full intention. I love the golf course, and I love the progression of my game right now. I love everything I've done with my coaches and what we've done from a technical standpoint but then also from sort of a mental standpoint, too. We've really started to entertain that quite a bit as of late. The work has been really efficient for a number of reasons, and you know, if it happens this week, great, but again, if it doesn't, the support I've had here pales in comparison to anything else.

Q. You mentioned the course and how much you like the course itself. It's been 20 years at Deere Run, so you've been to a lot of them. Basically this place has gone unchanged. You've seen it mature and grow. Give me your thoughts on 20 years here at Deere Run. That's not normal that they haven't changed it.
ZACH JOHNSON: That's correct; that's a good point. I guess it's one of those courses that's withstood some sort of test of time, right? I think certainly the PGA TOUR and D.A. Weibring did a great job in that regard. I don't know the thought process there, but maybe they were planning for the future just in some regard. You know, there was a couple of years -- well, I know one year that I can remember where I played that it was towards the fall, and the winning score was not quite as low because of what the fall elements can bring, the way the grass changes, et cetera, et cetera.

But in July, in the Midwest, for the most part it really doesn't matter what golf course we're going to play, humid conditions bring about softer greens. Humid conditions and higher temperatures the ball goes further. Any golf course becomes a little bit more manageable and you're able to attack.

Now, just because question shoot 15- to 20-some-odd under here doesn't mean it's a bad golf course, it just means we're good players and we can get after it. But you're right, it's awesome. 20 years now, I guess technically it's the 21st tournament, right? Isn't 1999 the first year?

Q. 2000.
ZACH JOHNSON: 2000 was the first year, okay. You guys know better, you're the media. That's what my wife says, You put the ball in the hole and I'll do everything else. She's a sage.

But I think the beauty of this tournament is that so much has happened in this last 20 years on the PGA TOUR. Obviously the biggest one would be the implementation of the FedExCup, and there's only so many tournaments that have kind of like stayed present, and that's a testament to John Deere first and foremost, but then also the golf course.

Q. Is there anything about the golf course that has changed in your mind? Or is it just basically you know what you know when you get here?
ZACH JOHNSON: I think you know what you know when you get here. All golf courses -- I'm not an agronomist, but they do mature and change and that kind of thing, but for the most part, maybe it's because of the geographics. This place has had minimal changes. If anything it's been enhanced. The grass is getting better. The greens are getting better. Again, it's all element based, too. We get a lot of rain, it gets tracked up. But the forecast looks good.

I don't feel like it's changed that much at all. I mean, I think this is one where the tee shot -- I feel like it's a first-shot and a putting golf course. Does that make sense? There's a couple second shots -- 18, without question, is one of the best finishing holes on the PGA TOUR. But it seems like if you get the ball in the fairway you're attacking.

I feel like it's a putter and a driving golf course, and that won't change.

Q. Matthew Wolff and a few other guys, they were basically in Pampers when this golf course opened. What's it like to have these kids have success as you get a little closer to Champions Tour age? Is that still your backup a little bit, or do you feel like you just have to stay after it --
ZACH JOHNSON: Man, it's motivating. If anything, it's awesome. I've actually been fortunate to play with Matt -- he was an amateur. He played in Phoenix. I remember actually playing okay. I was obviously very impressed with his golf game without question, but what a great kid. We had a lot of mutual friends, so it was a pretty easy conversation in that regard. But a pretty good kid, ultra talented. I know his teammate Viktor. That kid is really good, too. Played a couple holes with him at Augusta. Shocker. And there's some other ones. I forget the other individuals' names that was up there, but it seems like it's almost like a -- every three to four years you get this crop of kids that are just really, really, really good. I don't know -- it was almost like a seven- or eight-year period, now it's just shrinking, and the next -- it's probably going to be every year here in not so long. Are they all going to be phenoms? I don't know, it depends on your definition. But these kids are really good. They're playing professional golf as amateurs. They've got coaches, they've got trainers, they've got the mental side accounted for. Every aspect of the game, seems like they've got somebody or some sort of outlet to improve on, and that's impressive.

I mean, when I was 20, 21, I mean, I was trying to crack the top 5 at Drake University. There's not many parallels. I can't understand -- I can't fathom that. We were just talking in there, a 15-year-old at Wimbledon? Are you kidding me? It's awesome. It's great. It's great for the sport. It's great for the growth of the game.

There might be some ties to the fact that these guys looked up to Tiger. I mean, that's -- he set the precedent, he set the bar, however you want to put it, and even some of my peers that have been playing out here for a while, Tiger was their guy. I get it. Unfortunately he's my age, so it is what it is.

Q. What won't they know, though, that you know from having gone through the Hooters Tour and having worked your way step by step --
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I don't think they'll understand what it means to throw your clubs in the back of your trunk and go from a Super 8 to a Motel 6. At least I hope they don't. That being said, I wouldn't change a second of that. I mean, that was my story. That's the way it was supposed to be, and where I learned a lot.

You know, what I appreciate about my story, I don't know about these kids, but a lot of the ones we mentioned have won a lot of golf tournaments as amateurs and obviously now they're starting to crack it out here in professional golf. But what I appreciate was I feel like at every level, especially as I got better as an amateur, I started winning golf tournaments, both college and other amateur type events, and then I started playing the mini-Tours. At each level of the mini-Tours I started winning, and that was massive, just learning how and knowing how to win.

Obviously they're not going to experience that, at least I don't think they will. But it sounds -- to me there's something about knowing how to win. I mean, Tiger was dominant in amateur golf, and that transition to professional golf was obviously minimal. He just knew how to win.

I mean, you can make a great living out here not winning golf tournaments. We all know that. But as a competitor, as somebody that wants to avoid complacency, you want to win golf tournaments. The more you can do that at any level, I don't care where it is, the better off each transition is.

Q. You mentioned that you felt like you've gotten some really efficient work done since Pebble. Maybe can you detail us a little bit on what has been so refreshing for you?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, sure, I wouldn't say since Pebble. It was probably prior to Pebble. I've had three weeks off. I played my first member-guest, ever, in the last three weeks. I was the member. It was fun. I brought Charles Warren back out of the -- back on to the golf course for a little while. It was fun. We had a good time.

Man, tangent. (Laughter.)

My team and I kind of reconvened -- and we try to do it multiple times throughout the year, but it was weeks prior to the U.S. Open to just kind of check all boxes and see where things were, especially where I was, both technically, fundamentally, whatever you want to call it, and then I would also say mentally.

There's been a lot of frustration for me as of -- in the 2019 season because of the work I've put in and not seeing the results. I mean, I feel like I've worked really, really hard. I don't regret it. I mean, that's just the way the process has been.

But the work I was doing was not proper in the sense -- I mean, the time was there, and there was periods of it where it was efficient, but the work I was doing, if I'm going to summarize it briefly, was probably more analytical and assessing rather than improvement based, and so we've gone back to improvement work, and that sort of practice -- that strategic practice is really starting to show.

It really just -- I hope it happens soon on my scorecard, but it really just became very apparent that I have an unbelievable team.

Q. What have you been working on specifically with your golf game?
ZACH JOHNSON: I wouldn't even know where to start on that one.

Q. Total rebuild?
ZACH JOHNSON: No, no, it's not -- there's nothing that's being broken down and built back up. I mean, everything is in place. It really comes down to me understanding things have changed. I mean, mentally I've changed a little bit, and then physically I'm as good as I've felt in years, so I can't use that as an excuse. Nor do I want to, but that's the ultimate frustrating. I feel like I'm physically in a really good spot. I've got some lingering things, but the maintenance and the way I've been trying to improve that has been great, in the gym, with the PT, chiro, what have you. Mentally I haven't been quite as sharp, and then, like I said, my practice probably hasn't been as strategic as it needs to be.

Assessing how far I hit this club versus that club, do I need to change wedges because my wedges are going too far or too high or whatever it may be. I've got to get out of that and just play, and that's really what it boils down to.

Anything that's been changed, as you kind of said, and if there has been any changes, it's been me looking in the mirror and saying, "what are you doing? You still know how to play this game, so let's get back to the basics." If I'm going to break it down, putting would be the priority at this point, and my practice in that regard has been unbelievable.

Not as many jumping jacks as usual.

Q. A lot has been made, you're 103 on the World Ranking now, first time out of the top 100 in years. How have you approached that or is that something that was on your mind?
ZACH JOHNSON: No, it wasn't on my mind until somebody - we've had a lot of boring time on our hands - posted it on social media, so I had no idea. I mean, I'm not surprised. I mean, I get it. I don't get World Ranking, but I get the fact that that's happened.

I mean, it's motivating, right, more than anything because I know -- I just feel like every time I've had -- I've never really had my back up against the wall, but every time I've kind of been in a position where I've had to step up, at some point it's happened, and I don't know why that won't happen again.

Now, that's my motivation. I don't -- I'm not going to sit here and say that I want to -- I've got to get back inside the top 100, top 50, what have you. I fully know that's not a necessity, but the competitor in me wants to be top 5 in the world. I mean, I just do.

I've gotten close a bunch, but I really feel -- I still feel that my best golf is in front of me. I don't know how else to word that.

I mean, I'm 43. I know, again, the realist in me understands that there's probably things that, regardless of how good I'm swinging it, how good I'm hitting it, how good I'm hitting it down my line, age can be a factor there, but I'm not going to use that as an excuse. Just not going to happen.

Q. How much do you kind of harken back to the other successes you've had to pull out of it when you're kind of analyzing where you're at?
ZACH JOHNSON: How much am I going back to those experiences? Yeah, a little bit for sure. Fortunately my valleys have been brief throughout my career, I guess, if you'd call them valleys. I don't know.

I'll tell you what's encouraging, and also what's frustrating. But the frustration is minimal relative to the encouragement is I feel like the valleys I've had or those down, whatever you want to call them, downhill slides, that's something that becomes extremely apparent, okay, or multiple things that become really apparent, whether it's my putting, my driving, what have you. There's not right now, so that's fantastic. Every aspect of my game I think is in a position to flourish. My swing coach is here right now, and I'm not speaking about him, but I know he'd say the same thing. There's not an aspect -- if you lump them all together, there's not one that's like, oh, man, that one is glaring. In the past there has been.

What that comes down to, the encouragement side of it, the encouraging thing about that is I've just got to go work. I've got to be efficient in my time of practice on all the aspects, and at some point they're all going to mesh and something is going to happen, just because I know it has and it will. That's encouraging. The frustrating thing is everything is working and it hasn't shown up yet. But I haven't played in three weeks, you know.

Q. Doesn't that just show that it's harder to win out here?
ZACH JOHNSON: A hundred percent, 100 percent, yeah. If you would have asked a 25-year-old Zach Johnson when he was out here, I don't know, I feel like I'm a better player now than what I was then. Yeah, but that's great. The PGA TOUR is just really, really good, and it's getting younger. The average age is going down, all that. That's not a negative, it's a distinct positive, especially if you're in your 20s. (Laughter).

Q. When you think about all the success you've had here, do you find things to be a little easier for you mentally when you get out there and play this course?
ZACH JOHNSON: Easier, no. From a comfortable standpoint, yes. I guess it depends on your definition. I love the grass. The specifics of that. I love the putting surfaces here. I've had good weeks of putting here, I've had okay weeks and still played okay. I know that if I'm hitting it decent, it's just a matter of seeing those balls go in.

Yeah, I love that. I mean, I know I can score here. That part makes it very comfortable. But I also know I can't take it for granted. This golf course still has teeth.

Q. Do you have any inspiration to get back to the Ryder Cup with Steve coaching next year?
ZACH JOHNSON: Playing for him? 100 percent. Yeah, every two years that's my -- outside of winning golf tournaments, that's my number one goal, absolutely. It's the best thing I've ever been associated with, inside and outside the ropes.

Q. When you look at gradual progression toward the PGA TOUR and playing mini-Tours, then getting thrown into everything that comes with winning, do you think there's an advantage for how you did it, the way you learned how to balance things?
ZACH JOHNSON: Hard to answer because I can't speak on behalf of them. What I do know is that when any sort of minor or major success comes, it comes down to you'd better have great people around you that you can hold accountable and they can hold you accountable because distractions can come, obligations will surface really quick, and you've got to be able to know how to filter that and navigate that.

But I don't know if age or the road in which you get to that point matters entirely. I mean, I feel like it mattered for me just because that's all I know. I'm grateful that I had those years of trunk slamming and driving around the United States, you know. I think I know every interstate system here, and I can tell you every major city where every interstate is. But that's a good thing.

Q. Given your history with this course and the fact that you really have to think hard for a year you weren't in contention in this tournament, can you focus for us on the 14th hole, the par-4, 361-yard hole which is designated this week as the Aon Risk-Reward Hole, the thoughts of risk versus reward, what do you do when you get up there?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, sure, the 14th is -- and it's placed in a great spot in the tournament, too. It's the 14th hole. There's only so many holes left, especially on the weekend. I think it's awesome. I mean, you have the ability to hit an iron of some sort down there and hit a wedge, but that could be a blind shot. The risk is taking your driver out or 3-wood out or whatever it is, depending on the situation, and getting after it.

I think it's more times than not the risk is worthy of getting after it. It depends if there's elements involved, right? The wind -- oftentimes the tee box is moved up. There's I don't know how many tee boxes are on that tee, but it seems like there's a bunch going down the hill. If the front of the green or near the front of the green, front bunker is gettable, it's pretty much worth it.

I've always thought you've got to be pretty aggressive on that golf hole.

Q. As the young guy who drove in the car with his clubs in the trunk, what are your thoughts in this day and age of these programs like that one that are shining a spotlight on strategy and taking us into the line of the golfer and look what he did and what he's into?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I don't know how their comparison would be to my mini-Tour years in that regard.

Q. Just the evolution of the sport where programs are created to focus on risk and reward and prize money at the end of the year, beyond prize money --
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I can tell you this: I'm not going to be thinking about that program if it's coming down on Sunday, and maybe I should hit my 3-iron instead of my driver. That's not going to be a part of my equation. But it's great incentive. It's a great way to showcase some pretty talented athletes, and incentive for companies to join hands with the PGA TOUR and utilize our platform.

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