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March 4, 2008

Zach Johnson

GLENN GREENSPAN: Good morning and thank you for joining us, we have Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters Champion with us. Zach won last year's Masters with a score of 289 highlighted by 11-under par on the par-5 holes. Zach has won twice on the PGA TOUR; at the 2004 BellSouth Classic and last year at the AT&T Classic.
Zach, if you could, if we can have some opening comments.
ZACH JOHNSON: Sure, yeah, well, thank you for having me first and foremost. You know, I mean, all of us professionals certainly don't go out of our way for interviews, but this one I'm very excited about. This is one that I hope to make a consistent part of my routine year-to-year if possible, but I am excited.
2007 was certainly a pretty awesome year starting with our firstborn, and then obviously highlighted by our first win in a major and that being the Masters was a dream come true.
So I'm looking forward to defending this year, and whatever comes along with that, certainly, it's been overwhelming and the opportunities that have been given have been numerous. But it's been all good stuff and, you know, we're enjoying it. So it's been a nice roller coaster, and we're excited to be on it.

Q. Listen in, talking to a lot of your friends and family, many of them consistently refer to Kim as being a final piece of the puzzle regarding your development. Can you talk a little bit about what role your wife has played in your success?
ZACH JOHNSON: Sure, sure. I mean to fully describe it would take more than the time we have here but in a nutshell, you know, I've always been able to, you know, kind of get motivated, self-motivated to play, whatever the endeavor was; specifically, golf. I've always been able to get up and get pumped I guess, and competition always is something that gets me going.
You know, there was times, especially in my mini-tour tour days and the days when I'm practicing trying to get to this level, where you get beat up. You're going to get slapped around, and this game will do it to you. And she's been the one that, I don't want to say pulled me aside, but more or less given me the perspective of, you know, what it's all about.
I mean, she believed that I would make it to this point the entire time. I don't know why, because she really didn't know much about golf back then. But she always felt like that I had something in me and I could really go far in this sport. Just having that confidence and perspective that she's always given me has been priceless. It's not tangible, but it's something that I am forever grateful for.
So I would say it's the confidence perspective that she has for me, and then also, you know, I mean, good or bad on the 18th green, she's always there, and she realizes that there's more to life what we're doing. I think when you have a sport like this that's a very humbling endeavor, that's something that you can't -- you know, that's just awesome. It's just nice knowing that if I can shoot 85 or 65, she really doesn't care.

Q. To use a word that you've used a lot in the last year, surreal, the last surreal honor for the defending champion is hosting the Champions Dinner. What have you thought about being in that room with that group for the first time and what have you decided to feed them?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, well, I certainly had a lot of thoughts about it. I've kind of picked some brains of some other past champions as to what kind of takes place and whether there was a protocol to it and this and that.
Really, I've heard it's just a pretty casual evening. They just kind of stand around, chat a little bit and more or less, I hear a lot of the veteran past champions, if you will, just kind of tell stories. If that's the case, I know I'm just going to be a fly on the wall, kind of a sponge, just soak it all in and listen. I think I'll probably have to say a piece, and that's a little nerve-wracking hope I don't screw it up, considering the fraternity I'm in and the gentlemen that will be accompanying me. I'm excited. That's a lifetime dream right there and knowing that I'll be able to go back to that meal till, well, whenever, is pretty special.
You know, as far as the food, you know, we haven't really fully decided. We have a deadline, I think it's middle of the month maybe, right around there. But we have some ideas. We're trying to piece some things together and see how that works out. I have a feeling it's going to be some Midwest food with some Florida flair, if you will, where my wife is from, so we'll try to incorporate maybe a surf-and-turf type thing.

Q. My question is about Amen Corner.

Q. You just said, "Mmm." You did pretty good there last year. You were even par, minus three on the 13th. Does a player start thinking about Amen Corner before he ever gets there, or once you get there, what's your thought process trying to get through that?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, you know, I think you probably think about it a little bit. You know, that golf course has so much teeth that if you start thinking too far ahead, the hole that you're on or the shot that you're presented with at that time is going to bite you. You really can't look too far into the future.
You know, there is some birdie holes, especially like once you get it past 12 I think. You know, you've got to kind of stay in the present. Now, once you get there, I think the thought process more or less, especially on 11, getting the ball in position, hitting your approach shot on to the green.
But more than that, it's just to kind of understand the wind. I think that corner there is certainly a wind-based, wind-driven part of the golf course. 12 isn't very long obviously, but you know, it can be a 9-iron; it can be a 6-iron. It's just a swirling effect in that area, and you've just got to pay attention. I think the more time you play it, the more experience you have on those holes, the better off you can be.
You know, I think if you can put it aside and stay on the present but once you get there, focus on the wind, and obviously be conservative on the shots that you have to be conservative with and be aggressive on the pins that you have the right club with, then you can do well.

Q. I have a follow-up and this is a different subject. We all know Tiger Woods is going to come in there and the whole world is going to say, well, he's the man to beat here, and the way he plays, he may well do that. What's the reaction of players now on TOUR that Tiger, he's started off so dominantly?
ZACH JOHNSON: I don't know. I really can't speak on behalf of them. As far as the reaction, that's very, very difficult. I would say it seems to me that, kind of the words that have gone around is that he's back to where he was, in what was it, '01 or '02, in 2000 or 2001; I wasn't out here yet. But he's back to those ways where if he plays mediocre to bad, he might finish in the top two or three; if he plays good or really good, he's going to win.
You know, he's a phenom and he certainly never ceases to amaze me. He just has that knack. He just has that gift that's very, well, intangible. You don't know what it is because we don't have it. Every now and then we can get in that zone but it just seems like his bad days are pretty darned good and his good days are just really, really good and that drive that certainly is second to none.

Q. Glenn mentioned the way you played the par 5s last year, 11-under, I guess that means you played the other holes 12-over. My question is, do you have to tighten up that scenario, or have you proven that beating up the par 5s is the key to winning there?
ZACH JOHNSON: I think it's a mixture of both. You know, obviously that golf course is all condition-based. If it's fast and firm, you know, the par 5s are still birdieable, because you can wedge it close. But if it's soft, a lot of these guys, especially long hitters, they can be more aggressive into the other holes. I think it becomes imperative to score well on those other holes.
Now for me personally, I've got to score well on the par 5s. The course is so long and it has become very much an approach-shot golf course in my opinion, that the more wedges I can get in my hands, the better off I can score.
I was 12 over on the other par 3s and par 4s, but I think I had seven 3-putts. And I didn't make a double that week, but my 3-putts were all bogeys on the par 3s or par 4s. I putted great at times but I also had some speed issues at times, too. I think it's just natural, especially those conditions last year with the wind, as gusty as it was, and certainly that Saturday round was very, very cold.
Yeah, I mean for me, scoring on these golf courses, I've got to take advantage of those par 5s. And certainly you know, if I have the right club in my hand, I'll go for it in two; and if I don't, I've got a wedge and clubs.

Q. Back to the par 5s for a second. How did you come up with the strategy to play them all as three-shot par 5s, and were you ever tempted to try to smash one in two?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, the game plan was I guess Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, it was playing softer than what it did even come Thursday, especially Thursday, Friday, or especially even Saturday, Sunday.
You know, I could not get home in two on No. 2, for example. Certainly No. 8, because it's uphill.
13, I can always get home there if I hit a decent drive, but we made -- because of the round, hitting it left or right, we decided that if I don't have a 4-iron or less in my hand to the middle of the green -- 3-iron or less to the middle of the green, then it just wasn't worth it based on the lie that was presented and I guess also based on the dangers left and right of the green.
And then 15, I don't know if I'll ever go for that green in two, just because it so difficult to hold the green.
Yeah, my game plan was put in place the Monday before, or the Monday of, if not before that. I had an idea going into it. I really stressed my wedges and prepared for the tournament. I was at Sea Island with my mental coach hitting different shots with wedges and trying to kind of mimic some of the shots that I thought I might have, yardages I might have into those pins.
You know, where I laid up on those holes, especially like 2, 13 and 15, was all pin-driven. In other words, if the pin was left, right, back, middle, based on where I laid up in the tournament, the yardage and the spin factor that I thought would be most suitable to try to get it close and fortunately it worked out for me. I gave myself a lot of putts I could make and I gave myself a lot of putts I probably should have made and I was able to be aggressive with my wedges.
On a side note with that, I believe it was Larry Mize that mentioned -- and also a couple members I played with in the past -- that these par 5s, as long as they are, you can make birdies if you can get there in two, and certainly there's a couple times where I could have, or even eagles, but you can also make a bogey in a heartbeat.
And more or less what they are trying to say is because where these pins are situated and because of where you can land your shot and utilize your spin, you can make birdies laying up. And obviously, I was the perfect example of that.
What was the other part of your question, I'm sorry.

Q. Where are you ever tempted?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, No. 2, for example, I hit a drive one day and hit down the left side and it curved and I hit a 4-iron about three yards short of the green. So it wasn't like I couldn't get there. I put it into the position that gave me the best opportunity to get it up-and-down for birdie.
The biggest temptation was probably on 13 on Sunday. I think I had like just over 200 yards to the front, maybe less than that, and about 215 to the pin. The wind was kind of switching, moving around and at the time I'm like, I know where this pin, I can just bang for it, if I can just lay up to this yardage, I know I can get it within ten feet if not closer, and I did. Fortunately I made the putt. That was really the biggest temptation.

Q. I guess this year's decision on your strategy will depend on conditions and when you get there?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, it is going to be condition-based. At the same time, I don't think I've gotten a whole lot longer since last year, so I don't perceive the strategy changing a whole lot.
I do think that, you know, if I have the right shot in my hand -- first, give me the right club in my hand with the right pin, right conditions, there will be a time when I might need to go for it, and I don't mind. It's not as if I fear it. I just want to give myself the best chance to make birdie, and certainly eliminate a bogey, making par or worse.
These pin placements, not even just the par 5s, but all around the course, more or less sit in little quadrants, little pockets at times. If you get the ball in the area it will funnel or feed to those pins. It's just being patient and putting yourself in those positions to make those putts.

Q. You mentioned earlier today about working with Morris Pickens at Sea Island before last year, and I know you've used him since there. In recent years we've had Stewart Cink going to a psychologist to kind of help him. How much do you feel like that approach to golf, the mental approach, has helped you or still helps you, and to follow up, I guess if the game is that mentally demanding week-to-week, how much more so is it at a place like Augusta National?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, you know, that's a good question. I think once you get to this level, first and foremost, our sport is so deep, there's so much parity in our game that I think what separates -- everybody hits it pretty good and for the most part everybody putts it pretty good. Certainly the ones that putt it really well and hit it a little bit better are the ones that everybody knows about.
But, everybody does everything pretty darned good, and that's why you can see anybody win every week. However, I think what separates some of those mediocre players from even some of the elite players is the mental game. There's that knack, there's that mental strength and certainly experience at times, but that competitive drive and mental toughness that separates the field.
So I think Mo has been one that kind of helped me implement some good mental strategies for me, just some more or less thoughts, good thoughts I can have before I get to the golf course; and once I'm at the golf course and certainly once I'm playing, and even in my practice. It's not like it's mind-boggling things, but his awareness and his insight has been very helpful in how to prepare, how to execute and how to get better.
You know, psychologists, I don't know if it's for everybody, but having a mental coach like Dr. Mo I think has just made me a better player. I went to him in '06, the middle of '06, and I felt good about things. I was having a good year up to that point. I felt like everything was going the right way, but I was frustrated with some of my finishes and I felt like my game could be polished a little bit more and ironed out a little bit more, and more so in the big tournaments, like you're saying.
I think you get to like an Augusta and you've just got to be that much more sharp, and I think, you know, like I said having his keen insight and his knowledge has certainly helped me a lot.

Q. And to follow up on that, what specific things -- you talked about distance to pins and things like that, anything else specific that you worked on last year, and would you expect your preparation for this year to be pretty much the same or a little different?
ZACH JOHNSON: It's going to be a lot of the same. I think as far as my shot-making goes, yeah, wedges are going to be the answer, there's no question about that. I think outside of that, it will be getting my driver in the fairway and then probably my iron play after that.
You know, I mean everybody hits their irons pretty good. I hit mine okay and they have gotten better. But I think the key is getting the ball in position, get an iron in your hand that you can score and even more importantly, your wedges, especially for me.
So if I'm going to change anything from last year, even though the highlights will show I putted pretty good, I'm going to emphasize my putting more. So I didn't putt great the beginning of this year so far. It's really, really starting to come along as of late. I've worked with both my coaches, Mike Bender and Pat O'Brien; Pat-O', in particular, as of late to get my fundamentals back in order and get my stroke in a groove again.
Being in contention any tournament, especially in a major, especially in Augusta, you have to be able to putt and that's certainly going to be my emphasis.

Q. There's been a quite a bit of attention recently to slow play with a penalty on the LPGA, and Tiger and both Adam Scott speaking out on the PGA TOUR. Your sense for how much of a problem this is, and what realistically can be done to make a significant impact?
ZACH JOHNSON: You know, I wasn't aware of the LPGA Tour, and I've not seen the two comments by Tiger or Scotty. Is it an issue? Well, yeah, it's been an issue, certainly in the PAC the last three or four years, or whatever it has been, it was an issue before I got here and it probably always will be.
It's a fine line. You can't please everybody. You know, Thursday and Friday rounds especially before daylight savings, it's just slow and we all know it. Going on to the weekend, twosomes whenever possible, that helps.
But it's also golf course-driven and condition-driven and there are certain courses on TOUR that the rules officials know that even playing twosomes, we can't play in less than five hours; and there are some golf courses if you play show, you might be playing in four hours. There's just a lot of factors involved.
Like I say, you're not going to be able to please everybody. There's not a perfect situation. There's not a perfect remedy for it, but it is, it's frustrating. This game is very rhythmic. It's very much a tempo-based game, and when you're playing a hole and you hit a couple shots, you putt, and you go to the next tee, you're sitting there for ten more minutes, it takes you out of that. That's frustrating.
But if we maintain these purses and we maintain this payout, it's the guys' livelihood, and unfortunately you're probably going to keep seeing that. I don't know what the quick fix is. I don't know if there is one, and I don't know if there's a short-term fix.
But I do know that the TOUR is looking at all angles. They are certainly looking at some sort of solution to make it better, to make it better for all players, and the majority of the players. And I don't know what that may be or when it may be, but implementing the new cut rule on the weekend versus, what we started with at the beginning of the year is a nice compromise I think and I hope that works out.
But you know, in answering your question, it's a very, very difficult issue.

Q. As a quick follow, would you support more aggressive penalties being imposed what's what happened on the LPGA; a player who was in contention was penalized two strokes coming down the stretch in the final round.
ZACH JOHNSON: Wow, you know, I don't know. I know the policy we have in place now. As far as strokes go, yeah, that may be an answer. That may be a way to go about it. I don't know. I'd have to see, you know, when it comes to any policy change or any decision making, there's a lot of information and there's a lot of data that's presented and a lot of numbers, just a lot of, you know, options, and I would like to see those before I would have a justifiable answer to that.
But yeah, you know, I think we have fines obviously. I know that certain individuals have been fined, and I know there's probably been times where players have probably come close to getting a couple shots, but I don't know. If that helps, may be. Like I said, I'd like to have all the information presented before I could have a really good answer on that.

Q. You hear the guys talk about TPC Sawgrass, when they get up in the morning, they know they are going to have to hit that shot at 17 and it's something they think about all day long. I'm wondering from there are any shots at Augusta National perhaps that people on 12, or maybe even the third shot at 15 that you are thinking about before you even start, shots that you know are going to challenge you and that you can't help, but think about even before you start the round.
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, that's good. You're right, there is some shots like that.
Well, I think the first tee shot at Augusta on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday is one that you always think about. Outside of that, it is very much pin-based. It depends on where those pins are located. I think one shot for me, I mean, I think -- I don't know why, I might be the only one. I think one of the hardest holes day-in and day-out is No. 4. There is no water. There is no hazard really.
But that front left pin placement, you know, even with a 4-iron in your hand, it's exceptionally difficult, it is. You miss it right, you're in the trap, and I don't think you can -- I mean, you have to hit an unbelievable sand shot, a ridiculous sand shot, I don't think you can even get it close, period. You've more or less got to bail left or long and left and hope to get up-and-down, or manufacture a 50-foot 2-putt downhill.
Now, I've played it -- the last two years, I've played it to the front of the green and tried to get up-and-down and unfortunately I haven't been able to do that. I've more or less laid up on a par 3.
So that pin placement, that shot, certainly is one that I always think about. I think the top right pin placement on 6 is very difficult. That's one we always think about, or I always think about.
And certainly 12, any pin placement, it doesn't matter there. That's all wind-based and certainly club selection is of the utmost there. You know, I think the only other one would be the front right pin on 16. You cannot miss that right and you have a very difficult 2-putt if you're really conservative left. Those are the ones that stick out to me.

Q. Just to follow up on the third shots on the par 5s, you talked earlier about them being pin based and trying to set up into a person position; given that, and all other things being equal, do you have a stock distance with your wedge that you are most comfortable with?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I've got a couple. It obviously depends on the wedge. I carry a 60-degree wedge, a 54-degree wedge and a 48-degree wedge, all by Titleist.
Yeah, with my 60-degree, I like 80 yards, as far as carrying 80 yards, landing it 80 yards with spin because it will more than not come back. My 54, I like a stock about 100 to 103 yards and then my 48, I like 120 to 122, and that's pretty specific, but that's what I like to carry those shots.
And mind you, these par 5s, knowing what the pins or and knowing the wind direction and what I have in front and behind the pin determines how close or how far away I lay up and depends what part of the fairway I lay up on.

Q. I just had a quick question about your RV. I assume you're going to be taking it again this year to the Masters, and I talked to Rory Sabbatini about how it helps him stay relaxed, just wondering how that helps you during the course of a tournament.
ZACH JOHNSON: Sure. Yeah, I'm not sure what we're going to do this year but yeah, we do have a coach that we travel in. You know, I think the nice thing about it for me is that it keeps us together first and foremost. It keeps my wife, myself and then our son together. I mean, it's like a home on wheels and we're able to more or less sprawl out and it's like a second home, and we have our dog -- sorry, Hogan.
The cool thing about it for me is when I'm playing golf, and I'm out at the golf course grinding, whether I'm there for four hours one day or nine hours one day, when I leave the golf course, I've left the golf course. Now I'm at home, it's my stuff, it's my bed, we've got food and certainly we've got all the amenities that we need.
Certainly things can go wrong because it is a house, but we've got pretty much everything at our fingertips and it's the same sure surroundings for our son, that's the big thing. And I feel like when I leave the golf course I'm away from it, I'm done, I can get my mind on more important things at the time. The next morning when I need to go out, I can get back to work.
It's not for everybody. My wife loves it. I have grown to love it. It just keeps us together. It's fun.

Q. When you're there whether at the Masters or other tournaments, do you hang out with other guys who have RVs, I know Davis does and Rory does and JD does at times, do you ever hang out with other RV guys while you're there?
ZACH JOHNSON: Absolutely. We've kind of become like a traveling family if you will. Every now and then we'll hang out together. You just named a few. There's probably close to two dozen, maybe 20 families that do this on a consistent basis. There's a number of couples and a number of kids that they get together and cook-out, play together, what have you.

Q. Last year you played at the Heritage the week after the Masters, and you said you did it because you made the commitment and wanted to honor the commitment and you ended up finishing sixth. That's been unusual for players to go from the Masters or any major and then play the following week. To what do you attribute your good play there; were you still riding some momentum and would you do that again in the same situation now?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, yeah, I think you said it there. Yeah, I was riding momentum, there's no question about that. I certainly was on a confidence high that led into that week.
You know, I did honor my commitment. If I wasn't going to go, I knew they obviously would have understood if I decided to go another direction. You know, with my schedule that had been laid out from that point, from Augusta on to the middle of summer, this was all the best time for me to play. I took two weeks off after Hilton Head and based on some other things I committed to off the golf course prior to Augusta, this was the best scenario for me and for our family.
You know, it wasn't that difficult to get up and get ready for it. I can tell you it was probably the best thing for me after the hoopla and all of what went on after Augusta in New York and whatnot as I was up there for a day and a half. Getting down to Hilton Head and getting in the ropes, even that one-day Pro-Am, especially Thursday and Sunday, was the best thing for me. It could not have been better. I felt certainly I was back in an area that I felt comfortable with and that I had experienced before.
And throwing all that aside, Hilton Head, the golf tournament, the area, food, it's one of my favorite tournaments of the year. You know, it really wasn't that difficult.
The only issue we have there was my wife and I, we met Halle Berry and some of her people up in New York and they invited us to her premiere, and my wife nearly killed me because we didn't go. Other than that, you know, everything was good.

Q. And would you do it again?
ZACH JOHNSON: Absolutely.
GLENN GREENSPAN: Thank you all very much. Thank you for your time this morning, we appreciate it and look forward to seeing you in a few weeks.

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