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March 12, 2008

Zach Johnson


LAURY LIVSEY: We would like to thank Zach Johnson for coming in today. You're playing in your fifth consecutive Arnold Palmer Invitational, and play starts tomorrow. Why don't you talk a little bit about your season and how you played today and how things are going.
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, it's good to be back. Obviously I had like this place. I've had some decent finishes here, and I like staying at home. You know, obviously having Mr. Palmer's name on any event makes it even that much more special. So that's why you're seeing the field you see.
You know, I feel good. Start of my year has been okay at best probably. I feel good about things. I haven't played much. This is my sixth event maybe. But I feel good about things. My putting was a little bit off and it's coming around, needs to come around for obvious reasons in about four weeks.
So, yeah, everything is coming together nicely and I'm looking forward to the week.

Q. You've had almost a full year now going around with that title, reigning Masters Champion, Zach Johnson. I'm sure you've had a lot of experiences because of it. Have you gotten more used to it?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, it's mellowed down a little bit as far as the hoopla around it I guess. There's certainly a period there that was pretty congested, pretty chaotic. Up until about the U.S. Open it was pretty -- it was difficult. I just didn't know what to expect.
We got through it fine. I certainly wouldn't change a thing. I hope I'm in that position again so I can fight through it once more, or now I know what to do at least.

Q. Well, you won just a few weeks later.
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, it was probably about a month and a half later. Yeah, that's just the confidence that winning a tournament of that stature can bring I think. Even the next week I played well at Hilton Head. So I'm certainly feeding off it.
I think my game has gotten better since then in a lot of areas. There's certainly some things that I would like to get back to that I had that week, but there's a lot of facets that have improved. You know, I'm excited. I'm excited for the rest of the year and I'm excited for this week.

Q. I wanting to go back and revisit when you left school and certainly not marked for stardom. Where did you play, and walk us through that period when you moved down here and you were sharing a room with other would-be guys and what became of them, because that's an interesting part of your development.
ZACH JOHNSON: How much time do we have?

Q. As much as you want and I'm going to keep bothering you about it.
ZACH JOHNSON: No, that's fine. I don't know if it's the normal thing or the normal direction. I was never a stud player in college. I won a few events I think in college but nothing, you know, out of the ordinary. We had a good team.
Yeah, I decided to turn pro. I got a bunch of guys together to help me with my finances because that was really the one thing that I needed to cement if I wanted to get out there and try it, because it's obviously not cheap.

Q. Local guys?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, every individual was from my hometown at my home club actually with the exception of one. But he knew all those guys. He's from Athens, Georgia. So everybody was from Cedar Rapids, back at Elmcrest.
These guys, it started off as a business, was and throughout time was a contractual agreement, but it kind of turned into a business family where these guys, they didn't care. They would buy a couple stock shares in me and you know, just allow me to go out and not have to worry about the necessities of traveling week-to-week.

Q. What was the buy-in rate?
ZACH JOHNSON: It was $500 a share. Some guys bought one share every year, and some guys bought a lot more than that. It was just one of those situations. These individuals and their wives, certainly, I owe a lot. I've had a couple individuals as of late that are trying to go about it the way I did, and I said, you've got to get those finances in order first.
You know, I was lucky. These guys are very gracious. They didn't care if they got their money back. Fortunately they were able to get a lot of their money back, and then some. There was one year in there where they didn't and they stuck with me. You know, that's awfully kind. In the winters I moved down here and played down here four to six months every winter.
In the Midwest I played the Prairie Tour and a little bit of the Dakota Tours and a lot of Monday qualifiers and such. There's a good, you know, professional kind of, well, there's a bunch of good stops, Kansas Open, Iowa Open, etc., etc., so a number of those up there in the Midwest.
In the winter I would come down and play. There was a Central Florida Tour at the time and also a Teardrop Tour at the time. I played primarily those.
As time went on, I had Nationwide status in 2000, but played that, that was brief. In 2002, I played the Hooters Tour and played a few mini-tours to warmup for those, and obviously played 2003 in the Nationwide.

Q. You lived in an apartment?

Q. How much guys, how much was the rent, how bad was it?
ZACH JOHNSON: It wasn't bad. We got lucky. We found an apartment complex that was able to give us a limited lease, in other words we could get out whenever we wanted to, because there was like a state law. I'm probably going to bet bashed for this now. But I think you had a minimum seven-month lease and they put a clause in our contract stating give them a 40-day notice or 30-day notice or something like that and you can get out.
A couple years, we had two bed brooms and a couple years we had three bedrooms, depending on the sizes, it would be anywhere from a thousand to 1,500 a month.

Q. How many guys?
ZACH JOHNSON: Minimum four, upwards of six, you know, that paid and stayed there, but hell, we probably had eight to 12 guys there at times. You know, that's where I met my wife. I met her in the parking lot of the apartment complex and she just remembered seeing plates on cars from about 12 different states. And guys would just come in and park it, play in a couple events and leave. And they were all friends of ours obviously. It wasn't like it was a hotel or anything like that.

Q. Cookin' 'n cleanin'?
ZACH JOHNSON: There was some minor cooking involved. I'm not sure if there was ever any cleaning involved. There is a good side store see to that cleaning side. I don't know if I want to tell you that. It was disgusting.

Q. Did any of the other guys make it, and would I know any of the other guys? Are they still playing?
ZACH JOHNSON: A couple are. One just quit. He was my teammate and roommate, one of my really good friends. He played on the Canadian Tour, won twice on the Canadian Tour. Another individual is still playing in Asia. He lives up in Iowa still. He played at Iowa State. He's won twice in Asia, he's a good player, Knudsen, Jason, he played the Nationwide one year, and he's played a bunch of TOUR events. To say he can't make it, you know, I think is -- I think he can. As you know, there's so many good players. It's just a matter of making the best of your opportunities. So Q-School is just another animal that they have to fight through unfortunately. I had to go through it.
Those would probably be the two that have played the most and done the most professionally. All the other guys, one is a superintendent and one is a head pro at a course. A couple I can't recall. I don't know what they are doing. So, yeah, the list goes on.

Q. Tiger has won like one major in a row, the last one. You and Padraig and Angel won last year and it seems to be maybe it's our fault, there seems to be not a foregone conclusion but hey, Tiger, can you win all four this year.

Q. First of all, does that forget the other three guys who won majors last year, and will you use that as any kind of motivation this year?
ZACH JOHNSON: No. I won't use it as motivation. I mean, I'm not supposed to win. That's my motivation. Why not win?
He's probably supposed to win, and unfortunately he still does. (Laughter).
My opinions are probably much like y'all. I think he's got a chance to win them all. That's just how good he is. That's going to be extremely difficult, obviously. You know, given that, he just never ceases to amaze me. He's unbelievable.
I mean, you know, I think I'm going to feed off what I did last year. It may not be Augusta but it could be another big event, another major. I mean, 2004, I won as a rookie, had some other decent finishes. 2005 was kind of a learning curve year and 2006 I played really well and 2007, obviously I did really well.
So I think I'm going the right direction. I haven't played well this year but I played a lot in the fall and winter. I needed a break. So I took four weeks off this year already, or five weeks off. I've taken five weeks off this year.
Yeah, you know, I think what he can do is certainly not going to influence my approach.

Q. But do you think that there are some short memories about what you did, what Angel did, what Padraig did last year?
ZACH JOHNSON: I don't really care. You know, all I know is I'm playing the Masters forever and (laughter) I'm able to, you know, go play there whenever I want to. I guess one of the more encouraging things about Augusta last year is the fact that I have won the Masters in the Tiger era, because it is the Tiger era.

Q. Going back to the old days a little bit, can you talk a little bit about how you and Vaughn and Pat became such close friends?

Q. Yes. How you guys maintained that bond over the years.
ZACH JOHNSON: Pat O'Brien is my putting coach, and he was the Seymour rep on the Nationwide Tour in 2000.
And Vaughn, evidently had known him, but Vaughn introduced me to him, because I had known Vaughn -- well actually I met him that year and I got to know Vaughn very well and he introduced me to him and more or less just hit it off. Started using the putter as a training aid and got so comfortable it's been in play for seven years now.
Vaughn is a quiet kid but a laid-back guy, easy guy to hang out with and fun to be around, especially once you get to know him. Our roads to now have pretty parallel. Pat, we just kind of meshed. He's great. He's just like one of us except for he's teaching. That's the best way to explain it. He's got a great family, you know, he's part of the team. I mean, he wants to see us succeed. He's got some other business endeavors that he's into for himself and his family, but you know, he's part of our team and that's how we approach it. He's a great coach. He's a better friend.

Q. It must be cool for you guys last year in the Masters --
ZACH JOHNSON: On Sunday, absolutely. And Vaughn played well, a couple putts here and there, but yeah, more pressure on him being from Augusta I think, which is unfortunate. But still, he finished Top-10 I think, and obviously gets to play in it again this year. With his game and the way he putts, typically, there's no telling what he can do.
I think you'll -- well, I don't want to jinx him. He had a good 2006, 2005 and 2006, and I think you'll see that again shortly from Vaughn. He's too good.

Q. 50th anniversary of the naming of Amen Corner by Herbert Wind. Can you give me some of your best memories, and would you like a mulligan?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I do remember my first shot in tournament round on Thursday at Amen Corner, on 12, water. That one I'd like to have back, first year I played.
Yeah, you know, it's been 50 years since they have coined in a name or whatever? Wow. The course, the holes have changed, with the exception of I think 12. 12 has maybe changed a little bit. 11 has changed dramatically. I'm sure 13 has gotten longer and some subtle changes.
But yeah, it's all wind-based. Those holes, it's all wind, wind-based. What you see or what you feel isn't necessarily what's going on. You have to get the ball in the fairway on 11, and there you have to be conservative, in my opinion, unless you can hit it way down there and have a 30-footer, 40-footer.
The best shot I've hit on Amen Corner was my second shot on Sunday on 11, without question. I didn't hit a very good drive. I hit it down the right side and I had to cut a 3-wood into the wind off a sidehill lie, and I don't hit cuts very well at all, and with the water left obviously. I hit to about 30, 40 feet and 2-putted. That confidence right there led into the remainder of the day.
I think the beauty of those holes, 11 is a par 4. It's a par 4, you make a 4 there every day, it's great. 12 is a great par 3. Wind-based, you make a 3 there every day, it's fantastic.
13 is a hole you feel like you have to birdie. It's a risk/reward hole. The others are not. There's really I don't think any risk involved. You have to play pretty conservative and take your pars. 13 you want to make some birdies and it allows that, based on your second shot or your lay-up.

Q. In any way do you view this tournament as a little bit of a warm up to the Masters?
ZACH JOHNSON: No, I don't. There's really not many similarities unfortunately. I mean -- not unfortunately. This is a great golf course. But you know, Mr. Palmer has won Augusta, that's about the only similarity, and he's forever known as one of the better champions of all time. Other than that I don't see any similarities.

Q. I've heard people say you're a Heathrow resident, Sanford resident what, do you consider yourself now?
ZACH JOHNSON: My address is Sanford, Florida. But I'm bred on the outside of Heathrow. If you were to cross the street, I'm in Heathrow. I play out of Heathrow Country Club. There's the confusion. But I'm from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Laughter) I don't know if you've ever heard that. (Laughter).

Q. The way Tiger is playing right now, the streak he takes in, which scenario would be more likely to be one in which would lead to him not winning; something he does, a player who has everything going this week, or some outside influence?
ZACH JOHNSON: It might have to be a combination of the two. I don't know. It's hard to say. I mean, you know, he can play average and win. Most of us have to play pretty darned good. We have to have three really good rounds and the fourth can't be that bad. That's what it boils down to. I mean, you know, plus he's got that, I don't know, that Nicklaus aura when he's in contention, people start to realize it, I think they start to realize it. I don't know, but he's just got that aura about him.
You know, he can play bad. When was the last time he won here? It's been a little while, hasn't it, two or three years? Has it been four years? Well, okay, there you go. To say someone else can't win here is extremely misleading.

Q. Are you aware of the situation today, three guys disqualified?

Q. John Daly we understand, the other two guys, good rule, bad rule, a little harsh?
ZACH JOHNSON: I think the rule is very good and I think it's very good for one reason, and the most important reason, from a tournament standpoint, the most important reason, today is the most important day by far. We would not be playing week-to-week day-to-day year-to-year is because of our sponsors and this is the way we come and thank them. It's a casual round of golf and it's also a practice round.
And they are great guys. It's a day off of work for them to come out and we are able to say thanks. Some of them are clients, which is great. I don't think the rule is -- I mean, it's harsh, but I don't think it's unfair. I don't know the situations behind any of those three individuals. I think it's very unfortunate. I think it's very unfortunate for the guys that were going to play with them, but it's obviously very unfortunate for the tournament and unfortunate for those individuals.
You know, I'm sure there's a lot of levels to it. I don't know what the specifics are. I think it happened a few years ago in L.A. with Retief, does that sound right? It's brutal. You know, it's tough, but there's information out there. You should know when your tee time is and you've got to be there. I don't know why John -- I don't know why Ryuji didn't, and who was the other, Nick O'Hern? I don't know why they missed what they missed, but were they all three in?

Q. No, the two were alternates.
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, same thing. Same thing. It's the same thing. It's unfortunate. I like all three of those guys, all great guys.

Q. Well, the harshness factor for the alternates, they don't know what time, but you just think if you're an alternate you have to be on-site?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, it's a rule. It's a rule. There's a lot of rules in this game that stink and that's one rule that, you know, it's a little tough. You know, they probably feel a little bitter about it. But you know, that's the nature of the sport.
Like I said, we're playing this week because of the individuals that were supposed to play with those individuals. So it stinks. It's not a good situation on any side.
But you know, this is a big day for this tournament, any tournament.

Q. How have you always viewed your chances of winning THE PLAYERS Championship and do you think winning the Masters gives you the confidence that you can win anywhere? Do you think that your game conforms to the Stadium Course? It is almost south Georgia.

Q. I appreciate your stretch there.
ZACH JOHNSON: To answer your first one, TPC, I like that golf course a lot. I think it suits my game. My first time I played there, I won't say I should have won, because that's not true, but I had a lot of opportunities. I think I made six doubles and lost by like four shots. I played 17 and 18 like 9-over par or something, it was something stupid.
So, yeah, I like my chances there. Does Augusta help that? Absolutely, because totally different golf course, totally different conditions for the most part, but, you know, having to execute shots in certain situations, regardless of when and where that is, but especially somewhere like Augusta and the Masters and how you do it and then doing it, it's only going to help you down the road, especially in tournaments that are of -- like a normal event, for example.
Now, TPC, it's got the major feel without question, so I think Augusta will help me a lot down there. I think it did last year. I struggled the first couple rounds and then brought it back. I think I finished in the top 20, so had a good week.
But yeah, I like the golf course and that's part of it.

Q. Has Kim ever hinted to you that she might want to live closer to her family?
ZACH JOHNSON: Hint, no. There's been no hint. It's been pretty blatantly obvious.
No, I say that, but we don't know. You know, having one child and potentially hopefully having more, I think you want to be near family at some point. And we're not that far away now. We're about two hours two, and a half hours. I don't think she wants to live in Ponte Vedra or the Jacksonville area, but south Georgia wouldn't be bad, although the taxes.

Q. Just curious, have you been back to Augusta?
ZACH JOHNSON: Zero. Haven't been back.

Q. Have you had the urge to really get up there?

Q. No, the urge. Or the courage.
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, yeah, I want to go back. I almost went back this past week but I had some other issues that kept me at home, which is nothing serious. So I decided not to. But last year I didn't go early and obviously played pretty well.
I might go up a little earlier this year just to kind of get settled. Got a lot of family coming, so I need to get settled.
LAURY LIVSEY: Thanks a lot, Zach.
ZACH JOHNSON: My pleasure.

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