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May 14, 2008

Zach Johnson


DOUG MILNE: Zach, thanks for joining us at the AT & T Classic. You're coming off an interesting week last week at Sawgrass, and now you're here in a familiar place. Talk about how you're doing.
ZACH JOHNSON: You know, I didn't play particularly well last week, but I feel things are -- I'm always optimistic. I feel things are good. I know what I need to do as far as my preparation goes and that sort of thing. I feel good. My body feels pretty good, game feels okay.
My putting has been a little bit sluggish, but that's all I've worked on really the last couple days, some fundamental changes there, but nothing significant. Not really changes, just kind of getting back to where I was.
So all in all, game feels pretty good.

Q. Now that Trevor is the "it" boy, do you feel like a little pressure is off and you can get back to taking yourself to the next level?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, I don't know if it was necessarily pressure, it was just an overwhelming experience. But yes, I think there's a little bit of truth to that. I think any time you're a first-time major winner, you really don't have any idea what to expect. The whirlwind that is thrown in your lap after something of that magnitude takes a little toll on you. I'm sure Trevor will learn from it and do great. I mean, he's a fantastic champion, and I expect that he'll probably be in contention or win more.
But me personally, yeah, I mean, I'm anxious to get back to the form I was in last year or even better than that. I think I can get better. All in all, I'm excited for the future.

Q. Just talk about the layout and what makes it a good fit for you.
ZACH JOHNSON: I get that question a lot. I don't know why it's a good fit. Obviously on the scorecard it's pretty long, which shouldn't fit me. But I think what this course makes you do is that you kind of hit -- it's target oriented. In other words, you hit it to like a section. Your tee shot goes to a section, then you hit it to another section, whether it's a lay-up or a green. There's some holes here where I might be hitting driver and other guys might be hitting 3-wood, so that kind of brings me right back into it. It's segmented in some sort of respect.
I think the other thing is the greens are bent. That's what I grew up on, fast bentgrass. I love that. I love having to really use your imagination and feel the break and that sort of thing.
You know, the golf course specifically itself, I mean, I love it. It's got a lot of character. It's got a lot of short holes, long holes, left, right, up, down. It's got the whole spectrum. I think it's a great test. I have yet to see it this year, but I'll see it this afternoon, and I'm looking forward to teeing it up tomorrow.

Q. The area has been in a level 5 drought for a long time. The superintendent has done a good job, but as a player do you feel any difference out there? Is the roll-out significantly more? Does it change the way you plan your game?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I haven't seen it. Yeah, I don't know. I mean, I think the roll-out, if there is going to be roll-out, plus there's a chance of rain, so that could totally change that, but I think the roll-out comes into effect when your approach shots hit the green. These greens are situated where there's a lot of drop-offs, and at one time there was some pretty substantial rough, and now there's not, from what I was told.
It's going to put more of a premium on landing your approach shots on the green without spin or to an area that won't release off the green. You might have to be a little bit more conservative, which is good. I don't mind that in the least. That just makes it a little more difficult.
But yeah, I like firm conditions. I love when the ball rolls in the fairway. You've got to hit the middle of the fairway, you've got to hit it to a portion of the fairway so it doesn't roll into the rough. And same thing on the greens. I think puts more of a premium on a solid shot, trajectory control and spin control.

Q. We've been talking about shaping shots and how that's kind of become a lost art out here over the last 20 years or whatever. What are your thoughts on that? Are guys not doing it because they don't have to anymore, or is it because the equipment has changed or the courses have changed?
ZACH JOHNSON: I think it's a mixture. I think technology has changed, and with it the golf courses have changed. I don't think it's the other way. I think the golf courses have changed due to technology, not the other way around. I think that's just what's -- that's what started it. It's just a little bit more difficult. The ball just goes straighter. It goes certainly better through the wind, thus there's not as much spin and not as much creativity, I guess.
There's still some guys out here that kind of paint pictures, if you will, á la Bubba Watson, and some of the real handsy players, feel players. That's fun to watch. Granted, he hits it a lot further so his ball curves even more.
But golf balls and golf clubs certainly have made it more of a high launch with less spin. Your wedges still spin. That's just technology. That's just what's happened over the last ten years or so.

Q. Do you enjoy really working the ball?
ZACH JOHNSON: Absolutely. I still try to work it but I just don't work it as much. The golf courses back then, that's what you were able to do, and you had to, especially with wind and a soft ball.

Q. Have you taken the time yet to reflect back on how kind the state of Georgia was to you last year?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, yeah. It comes up all the time. It's a very prevalent statement, question, what have you. Even at the TOUR Championship last year. It wasn't just last year; it's been kind to me for the last four or five years.
You know, I love the golf courses certainly. I love the character they bring and certainly how my game matches up to them. Is it coincidence that I've won here three times? Maybe, but you know, there could be some -- I don't know what it is. It could be the time of year, as well. The spring, early summer is kind of when my game starts to click. My West Coast has always been okay, a couple decent finishes, no real noteworthy finishes. I don't know, that's just when my game starts to peak, and I'm hoping it starts this week.

Q. Having spent a little bit of time before winning the Masters, and you had won this tournament back in 2004, but having spent some time in Georgia do you feel a comfort level in the state that allows you to relax and kind of play your game?
ZACH JOHNSON: I don't understand what you're asking. In other words, because I'm in Georgia I feel more comfortable than say in Florida?

Q. Didn't you spend some time here like in Athens prior to getting on TOUR?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I've played tournaments all around the state, but I've played tournaments all around every state prior to being on TOUR. Is that what you're asking? I'm not following, I apologize.

Q. Let's just jump to a different subject totally about the length of the golf course. 10 is the signature hole here, over 600 yards. Twenty courses now have holes over 600 yards. Ten years ago you might never have seen that. Can you talk about how the game has evolved and relate this golf course to what's going on with the distance now?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I think it's right on par with the other courses. Added length and added tee boxes I guess have been the common change. But that's a result, as I said earlier, of technology. I don't think the courses have changed as much as technology has changed. I think technology has changed and gotten better, if you will, thus the courses have changed. The ball doesn't spin as much, but when you need it to spin with your wedges, for example, it does. High launch, low spin, and I think the conditions of the courses, too, and the setup, as a TOUR we wanted to make it as fair but yet as difficult as possible, and given that, the most difficult conditions that a golf course can present to us is firm fairways, firm greens, thus the ball is going to go further. So that's more length.
I'm not a proponent of that all the time. It depends on the course, depends on the setup. But that just seems to be the tendency of what the TOUR is doing and certainly what the majors are doing, as well.
But technology has a lot to do with that. Fortunately there's kind of a cap now, kind of a ceiling on what can be done with golf clubs, golf balls I'm assuming to an extent. They're always going to improve. That's R & D and the money they put into that. But on the whole, you're not going to see any drivers come out that are going to be 700 ccs. There's certain things that certainly have been capped, which is nice.
Q. I imagine the first thing you want after winning a major is another one. If you could briefly run down the three remaining major championships we have this year and their golf courses and give us an idea of what they're going to require of your game.
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, unfortunately I've only seen one of them of the next three, and that would be Torrey Pines. I did not play there this year. I elected to take San Diego off. I was pretty exhausted by about that point.
But that course is going to be -- that course is brutal in January. It's going to be extremely brutal come June. Firm conditions on poa annua, it's like hitting it on a rock. I overheard some West Coast guys talking about 2000 in Pebble and what Tiger did there. Most of the guys couldn't stop a wedge.
You know, if there's not any rain, which San Diego that time of year there probably isn't much, you know, it's going to be very difficult. Plus you're throwing more rough in the picture. A healthier golf course in June versus January and the rough is going to be more substantial, the fairways will probably be a little bit tighter, the course is I heard a little bit longer and now it's a par-70 versus a par-72 when we play it. So all those elements are going to make it very difficult.
Oakland Hills I have not played. I've heard great things. I've heard the greens are what makes it. I was there in the '96 U.S. Open to watch. That was a long time ago. And frankly I remember like 16, 17, 18 and that was it. That's the only holes I remember. So it's going to be hard. I know it's a good championship classic-style golf course. I'm excited for that one. I love the Midwest courses.
And for everything I've heard about Birkdale, outside Liverpool there, I've heard fantastic things. As we talked a couple nights ago with Nick Faldo, he said it's one of his favorites, pot bunkers everywhere, just a great test, a true links, and that's arguably top two or three tournaments I play in every year. I love everything about the British Open and what it requires and what it magnifies in your game, I guess. You've got to have everything. Those are three priorities right there for sure.

Q. The 17th hole here, fairly tough driving hole, fairway bunkers, collected a lot of balls last year and in the past. Can you just talk about that hole and why it might be such a tough driving hole?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, it's changed over the years. I think a lot of guys, once again, going back to technology, that bunker on the right side, there was a time when I could easily carry that. Now it's over 300 yards to carry, and I don't know if that really benefits you because there's still some rough beyond the bunker. Yeah, you've kind of got to set up at that bunker straight ahead and hit a fade. Typically the predominant wind comes at you from the right, so you're trying to hit a fade into a right-to-left wind, so you execute it well you're in the fairway clearly, but if you don't, you're in the fairway bunker and now your next shot is typically into the wind.
The front pins probably are the easier pins because it kind of swallows right in and they kind of roll right into the same area, but the back pins are tough because it kind of slopes away early and requires a great shot. If those greens are firm, it's going to be trajectory and spin control, and that's if you're in the fairway. If you're in the bunker you just want to get it on the green.
Fantastic finish here, I think, starting at 14. 13 is a great short par-4. I think that's one thing that this course has is good short ones and good long ones. But 14 through 18, 18 is a great stadium arena finishing hole, and I think that's what sets this championship apart.
DOUG MILNE: Zach, thanks for coming in.

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