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June 12, 2007

Zach Johnson


RAND JERRIS: It's a pleasure to welcome Zach Johnson to the interview room this afternoon. Zach is playing in his fourth United States Open Championship this week at Oakmont.
Obviously your win at Augusta National must have done a lot for your confidence. Could you tell us how you're feeling about your game as you come into Oakmont this week?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I feel good. I'm very rested. I took Colonial off. I attempted to play at Muirfield and got strep throat and probably something else. I think it was just run down after the whirlwind at Augusta that kind of caught up with me. I had some time off and rested quite a bit and took Memphis off. Got here a little early and was on the golf course on Sunday.
I feel good. I don't know if you can prepare that well for this golf course but I'm prepared as well as I think you can get.
RAND JERRIS: Could you talk about the greens here at Oakmont?
ZACH JOHNSON: Speed-wise, very, very similar. They are very, very fast. The difficult part for me is the fact that you get on a bentgrass or a bermuda, where it is at Augusta, you see the breaks more, and you can see the speed based on the burnouts.
Here, this poa annua, it still looks lush and green and soft when you walk on it. So it makes it very difficult to judge speed, in my opinion. Given that, you know, the greens for the most part go one direction, and they are fast. So you know, I think all in all, it's going to be a speed test and ones where you're going to have to make a lot of 3- and 4- and 5-footers for comebacks. It's going to be a remarkable test.

Q. 17, how do you play it, and do you like it? How pivotal was that hole maybe Saturday or Sunday?
ZACH JOHNSON: 17 the par 4, for me, go figure, I'm going to lay up. (Laughter).
You know, I've only played it once. I'll play it again tomorrow. I hit a 2-iron. 2-iron was perfect. That was kind of a little bit into me, the wind -- not much, maybe cross-wind, and it was like a 2-iron and I had about 90 yards. Today I heard that guys were hitting 3- and 4-irons getting it up on top. It's going to be anything from a 4-iron to a 2-iron, just try and position yourself with a wedge.
If I hit driver, it would have to be perfect wind conditions, the tee would have to be in the perfect shot, and it would have to be a good pin placement; meaning probably closer to the back of the green. But for the most part, my game plan is try to wedge it close.

Q. How key is that hole?
ZACH JOHNSON: It doesn't matter what hole it is out here. They are all key. I think it's key in the respect that every hole you can make a big number. It's hard to make birdies. But that's one where, you know, you hit two good shots, you can give yourself a chance at it. The green is small. It's a short hole, which is great. I love that. I mean, 315 to the middle of the green, so probably 300 yards to the front, uphill.
But that adds another, you know, flavor to the golf course. Some of these par 4s are 490, 500. The short ones are fun, but yet still very difficult.

Q. You had such a detailed game plan going into Augusta, it worked so well; do you feel like you have the same plan heading into this?
ZACH JOHNSON: A little bit, yeah. Augusta is one of those, we play it every year, so you kind of know what to do.
The Open is one if you can get here early, you can kind of get an idea of what facets of your game are more important or what facets of your game you need to work on.
Given that, the U.S. Open pretty much tests all facets and you've got to be on in all aspects.
You know, I think in my preparation for this week, it's very much in line with Augusta. Driver is very important. Tee shots are very important, just like it is at Augusta, and, for me, wedges. For me I'm going to miss fairways, so I have to wedge it out and wedge it to the green. So tee shots, and just like Augusta, it's putting.
Getting the speed down and making those 3-, 5- and 7-footers, whether it's for par or bogey. I think a lot of this golf course is positioning. It's giving yourself a chance at par and eliminating double.

Q. What are the things that you mentioned in your post-round conference at Augusta, you and your caddie had good numbers for the week that set up for you. And putting together a game plan here are you finding good numbers here, or do you have to play certain holes and certain holes are leaving you out?
ZACH JOHNSON: You know, the good numbers as far as Augusta was going, that was more in relation to the par 5s. My lay-up numbers -- I didn't go for any of the par 5s so I was laying up to a number that was good for my wedges, whether it was a 60-degree wedge or a pitching wedge. Here, there's only two par 5s. I think it's No. 4 or 5 -- 4 is a par 5. That's one where I can lay up to a certain distance, I think, for the most part.
But No. 12, that's the epitome of a par 5; it's so hard. Once you get your tee shot in the fairway, it's still hard. And your second shot, it's still -- you make a five there all four days, I think you're going to be better than the average of the field.

Q. When you know that you have -- when you have got Tiger breathing down your neck and he's charging, do you feel that, and do you react to it, or is it just something you just don't even notice? Does it change the way you think about your own game?
ZACH JOHNSON: I guess my answer to that question about Augusta is ignorance is bliss, because I didn't know where he was until 15 and I managed to birdie 16.
So that situation, probably not so much. By that point, you know, I think I had a three-shot lead or something. So I really felt like I was in a good position. Other tournaments where he's been around, you know where he is. You have that feeling. I guess at one time they said it was like the Jack Nicklaus syndrome.
You know, Augusta, there was some of that. 15, when I was on 15, I heard a roar that progressively just got louder and louder and louder, and I knew he was on 13 green. I knew his ball landed, and eventually started rolling towards the hole and ended up within a matter of feet.
And then I knew ten minutes later he made the putt for eagle. Based on the roars, you know.
Like I said, there's a Zach Johnson roar and there's a Tiger roar, and they are vastly different.

Q. When you say you on the back nine, Damon was not out there with you; is he okay?
ZACH JOHNSON: I hope he's okay. He was out with me on the front nine. He's been with me since Saturday night since we got here. He's just not feeling well. I don't know, caught a bug in his stomach. So I anticipate, you know, we actually had a guy, a nice guy carry my bag on the front nine when he was with us.
So Damon walked the golf course, charted some things, had another individual carry the bag for me. And then I just told him to go home. He needs to rest.
I didn't even really tell him; he said he was going home, which is good. He just needs to get some sleep. He hasn't been able to keep much food in which has been a problem. You know, make sure the heat -- I don't know, he's got a baby back home, that and a new house -- I don't know what it is. Hopefully he can get healthy by tomorrow, or especially by Thursday.

Q. Is there a couple of weird, funny, strange, most enjoyable things that have happened since Augusta?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Q. Is there two or three that really kind of stand out as things you would have never expected in your life?
ZACH JOHNSON: Sure. Well, I didn't know -- I didn't have any expectations. Even if I did they were completely wrong, after the fact.
Just going to New York and that whirlwind certainly was hectic, but really cool. That 30-whatever-some hours we were there, was awesome. Got a lot of stuff done, met a lot of people and were on some shows. That's not particularly me. I don't particularly care for that sort of thing, but my wife kind of likes some of those things, so it worked out well, and it was easy; like I say, I don't particularly care for the whole limelight thing. I'm more of relaxed, hang out with family and friends.
On that note, I would say that the best thing that has happened for me personally and I'm a family guy, I like being around my family and friends -- two weeks ago this coming Saturday in my hometown, we had a party for close friends, relatives. And my wife, being the woman that she is, she surprised me and for the most part the entire Drake University golf team that I was a part of it and my coach were flown in and that was pretty cool. She putt a little videotape together through PGA TOUR Productions and she really went out and went overboard on it, but that's just the way she is.
There was former investors of mine, grandparents of mine, friends of mine. It was just casual, laid back, just very much local, very much Cedar Rapids and Elmcrest where I'm from. It was fun.

Q. So this was in Cedar Rapids?
ZACH JOHNSON: This was the course I grew up at, yeah. I don't know how many people were there, but there wasn't many, but it was perfect.

Q. With all of that whirlwind that you went through, how did you keep the competitive fire going to win again after Augusta, and what does that mean for you in the context of your career having won so soon after that?
ZACH JOHNSON: That's a good question. You know, I think it validates it a little bit. I don't think I necessarily needed to validate it, but you know, I won my rookie year and I haven't won since and then I won Augusta.
I think Atlanta certainly for me, spoke volumes, and it just gave me the reassurance that Augusta certainly was not a fluke. Not that I ever thought it was. But, you know, you can -- you can get lucky at times. Maybe not a major, but Atlanta was huge in that respect.
But going back to the beginning of your question, I think you know, given the competitive edge and playing still and competing at a high level, Augusta gave me the confidence to be able to do that; one. And two, the only sense of normalcy I've had for the most part has been inside the ropes, and I like it there. It doesn't really matter what the tournament is. Heck, it could be just playing at home with some friends. I still want to be -- I still want to win. So, you know, competition is what drives me professionally. And being on the golf course like that was a good way to get back to normalcy.

Q. What's your approach to the church pews bunkers during practice rounds? Will you drop a ball in the bunkers and try to hit shots? Some guys said they don't even want to practice out there because they don't want to visit them during the tournament.
ZACH JOHNSON: I did hit one in there today. I'll probably drop a couple in there just to see what club. I've kind of done it already. For the most part, it's a wedge. Whether it's a sand shot or a wedge out, that's pretty much what you're limited to.
You know, I think around the greens, obviously, that's where you're going to -- well, I shouldn't say that. There's bunkers every tee shot. They are treacherous. The banks, the sand is perfect. The outlay of the trap is great. It's just that bank kind up in front that makes is a little more difficult. To an extent, they kind of remind you of links golf across the pond, but they are not quite as deep as, say, a British Open bunker.

Q. How do you plan to play the par 3 and is it too long?
ZACH JOHNSON: I don't think it's too long. Technically it could play 300 yards. It is downhill. I'm not sure what the percent is, but it's probably four percent in the back, so you know, you're talking about ten yards off right there.
The nice thing is, you get it over the trap, it's going to feed towards the front of the green and that's all you want. And you say it's a par 3, and I think you could say that with a lot of holes, 1, 9 -- it's just a number. I don't think it really matters. If you're going to go by par, you might as well make par, 72, 73, 74 every day, you know what I mean. It's just not necessary to say, you know, par today is 70. I just don't think it's -- one, it's probably a little skewed just because it's not really how the course plays. But getting back to No. 8, I'm just going to try to hit it on the front of the green, every day.

Q. What will you hit?
ZACH JOHNSON: I've heard the tee box, they are going to put the tee box back twice and up twice. Depends on the wind. It possibly could be a driver but I doubt it. Probably a 3-wood. I think I hit 3-iron today so it could be a 4-iron even. It's going to be a long club regardless.

Q. There are so many international players doing well on the PGA TOUR now, I was interested to hear what you think of the shape of the game in general?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well there have been a lot of international players playing well here for a very long time. Our tour is broadening, globalizing, I guess could you say. I think the biggest reason is the fact that they want to play against the best players, and the PGA TOUR is the best tour. It makes sense. And it's not -- it's no longer like the United States tour. It's a global tour, which is great. That's what drives me. I want to play against the best, whether I win or lose. It will make me a better player. I think that's where it stems from.

Q. What did you do between coming home from Muirfield and coming here other than recuperating, of course?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, you said it. I slept a lot, quite a bit actually. I was able to rest, hang out with the family a good bit. I kind of looked myself in my parents house, which was nice. I didn't do much. I practiced a little bit out at Elmcrest. Larry Gladson made it available to me and I was able to practice my game. I was trying to work out when I felt healthy, trying to get the body back in shape.
So, you know, it was good. I got here early on in the week -- or excuse me, I got here on Saturday. I was home for about a week and it was just very nice to just rest. I haven't really been able to do that.

Q. Could you give a prediction for the winning score this week, and how the weather will affect that?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I think you said it perfectly. I don't, and I think the weather is going to be the factor there. If it rains, the course will play soft, a little bit easier, especially off the tee. And your approach shots into the green, if it continues to be somewhat dry, and you know, no rain, less saturation, it will make it that much more difficult.
I think the forecast is pretty darned good as far as no rain goes. I don't have any idea. That's hard to say. I mean, very, very difficult to say. And par is just a number. I don't have any idea what it's going to be.

Q. Can you tell me from your ends the phone conversation you had with Mo about the 3-putt on 16 at Augusta on Friday and how that has kind of maybe symbolized the work you've been doing with Mo and how you deal with things on the golf course, both good and bad that happened to you?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, well -- I'm really not sure what you're referring to. I 3-putted 16 on Friday --

Q. He told me the one thing that struck him, he asked you something about the 3-putt and you said, "Don't worry about it, I hit two good putts and tapped in the third." How does that symbolize the way you carry yourself mentally on the golf course?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, that's exactly right. You can only -- I felt like I executed both putts exactly how I wanted to. The first putt I feel the wind got it. It was one of those where I didn't even take a backstroke and the second putt, I hit a spike mark. It just happens and I think I called it, I got Augusta-sized.
On the next hole I made a good bogey putt and then made an even better bogey putt and those two putts right there led me to confidence to go into the weekend. I made two good putts on 17 and 18, I darned near made my shot on 16. If you were to drop a ball where I was on my first putt, it wouldn't stay there. It just wouldn't. It was hard. It was just a hard putt.
Mentally, every shot I have a system that I go through, kind of like a circle, where it starts with making my decision and then I go into my routine and then I execute my shot and I pretty much relax. I accept whatever comes my way. You know, if I make a 4-footer, great. If I miss it, I'll try to make the next one.
So, you know, when it comes down to it, I don't try to dwell on the past, I stay in the present. I play Thursday for Thursday, and so on. Does that answer your question better? Sorry about the tangent.

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