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July 5, 2005

Zach Johnson


PHIL STAMBAUGH: Zach, thanks for joining us this afternoon. It was sort of an interesting morning for you. You had a nice grouping in the Pro Am and you had a lot of kids out from your hometown following you. Do you want to start us off by talking about that little deal and lead into the tournament?

ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah. As far as the pairing goes, Clair Peterson, the tournament director here, has become a good friend of mine. He called me up and mentioned that well, the first call was that they offered Michelle a sponsor exemption and she accepted. I thought that was a phenomenal, awesome.

About a couple weeks later, he called me up, and due to the lights and the cameras that she's going to have on her, he thought that he should try to plan her schedule for the week and try to figure out her practice rounds and asked me if I would want to play with her. I guess I met the Wies probably a handful of times, so I can't really say I'm a friendly face but I'm a familiar face to BJ and Bo and obviously Michelle.

So I said I'd play if she wanted to play with me, and we put a good group together, Aaron Baddeley and Craig Bowden. Craig played with her in 2004 over in Honolulu at the Sony, so she knew him, and she's met Aaron on a number of occasions. I think it was an easier pairing for her because she knew who we were.

We all got along really, really well. It was a great group. Alongside of that, outside the ropes, we had I don't know how many, probably 50 to 100 junior golfers from my hometown of Cedar Rapids from Elm Crest Country Club, the head pro who is one of my best friends, Larry Gladston, and my agent and myself and Clair Peterson, of course, we kind of finagled something together over the past couple of weeks, and we took a bus down here and we played golf and they watched us play, of course, and then we had a little lunch afterwards, and I just got to talk to them a little bit.

These kids are in the junior golf program at Elm Crest where I group up, like I said, and they're following in footsteps that myself and a bunch of my friends went through. It's a great program there, Larry does a tremendous job, his whole staff does, and it was great to see all these juniors come out. A lot of support. It was pretty awesome.

Q. Tell me a little bit about this TPC at Deere Run. Talk about some of the holes, looking at the numbers in the book here. Where do you think you can make hay out there and where do you have to lay back and take what the course gives you?

ZACH JOHNSON: I think Aaron Baddeley and I, the first time he played it was today so I was trying to help him out as much as possible. It seemed like every other hole he was just like, "man, this is a great hole, this is a great hole." I think the main reason why he's saying that, aside from the condition, the fairways are perfect, the rough is thick, it's penalizing at times, the greens are great, but I think the reason why he was saying that is it is fair. What you see is what you get, right out in front of you. There's really no tricks. Some of the holes are risk reward, which are great. If you hit a great shot and want to take the risk, you can have a good shot at a birdie or more. But if you hit a mediocre shot you can get penalized and you're trying to salvage a par. It's got a combination of everything, left, right, up, down, short, long.

I think as far as the TPCs go, Craig Bowden mentioned it, too, it's one of the better TPCs we play. There's a number of them, granted, we don't play them all, but this is one of the better ones, and it's young. This course still has year to mature. I'm not an agronomy expert, but over the years this course has gotten better in the last seven or eight years

Q. Five.

ZACH JOHNSON: Okay, so five years, but it's going to get better and better as the years go on. They'll add things, take things out. It's going to get better. The piece of property speaks for itself.

As far as specifics go on the golf course, I think 3, 4, 5, that stretch right there is a good stretch. 1 is a good hole, but 1 and 2, you know, 1 is not long and 2 is a great hole, a par 5. But 3 is a great par 3, 4 is a great par 4, 5 is a great par 4. 5 is short but there's some trouble. After that I would say 7, 8 and 9, that's another great stretch. 9 is I think actually a par 5 for most players. It's not? It should be. It's like 495.

Q. It's listed at 485.

ZACH JOHNSON: Anyway, it could be. It's a great par 4 for us. I mean, downwind it's probably not nearly as difficult, but you can't predict that.

As far as the back nine, Aaron Baddeley walked off No. 10 green, and he's like, "this is just a great hole." I was telling him there was a time, I don't remember if it was last year or the year before, it was downwind and it was playing firm, two years ago in the fall, and I had a 5 iron on my second shot to get home in two, but because of the wind I laid up. It's no easy bargain even if you kill a drive. So that's a great hole.

11 is good there's not any bad holes on the back nine, and there's nothing you can just kind of slap at it and try to find. You've got to hit some good shots.

I'd say 17 is a birdie hole, more days than not. But it's there's trouble. One of the better holes out here that we were discussing was 14, a short par 4, where it's no wind or downwind you can hit driver and get down there pretty close and have a good chance at birdie.

Once again, if you don't hit your drive straight, you're throwing par or bogey bogey into the picture for sure, maybe a double. It's just a great risk reward hole. I think 15 through 18 is one of the best four hole stretches that we've had in a while.

Q. You said that the course is growing into itself and maturing. What about the reputation that it's gaining through word of mouth? You said Aaron just found out how nice the course is. Are you finding that word is starting to circulate around the Tour about this?

ZACH JOHNSON: Yes, I think so. I'm doing my part, of course. You know, this is only the sixth year, right? So it's going to get it'll start spreading more. I think part of it is and it's unfortunate, and a lot of tournaments, I'm biased to Atlanta for obvious reasons, that's where I won, they're kind of in the same predicament; they're the week before a major.

It hurts the field. There's no secrets, there's nothing around it. It hurts. The guys prepare for the majors and they have their routine and that's what they stick to, so they have to. Two years ago we had a lot better field here, Vijay was here and a lot of the other big names, but it was in the fall. So with that being said, it's better to be the week before a major than after a major, no question about that. I just wish the major was in our homeland so we could have maybe even a bigger field.

That being said, I think it's going to continue to spread. I think one of the benefits of having it at a TPC is huge because it's part of the Tour, and I can tell you that we speaking on behalf of players, as a player, we take pride in the TPCs. They're our courses. Sawgrass through and through and whatever. I mean, there's so many, Hartford and Atlanta.

I just think over the years having John Deere as a sponsor obviously helps a ton. That relationship will continue with the Tour. Negotiations I know start this fall at some point. A lot of it depends on TV, but I don't foresee this tournament it's going to get better. I don't see how it can't, especially with the staff they have, too. I'm really giving a lot of compliments, but it's true.

Q. You should be on the board.

ZACH JOHNSON: Hey, I am (smiling).

Clair and all the staff, the volunteers, they run it as a first class deal, and if you have a question or need something, it's at your fingertips.

Q. Does all that mitigate the fact that it's close to a major partly compensated by the fact that it's a great course? Is that a factor some guys might weigh?

ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, that's possible. I can't speak on behalf of them. I don't know some guys may say yes, some may say no. We are the week before a British Open, which is completely different than this golf course. So there's factors there. A lot of guys like to go over early and prepare. A lot of guys like to go over even earlier and play the Scottish. That's their prerogative and that's what they want to do. This is my fifth major, so I'm staying.

Q. Tell us about your game right now and what your expectations are this week at the John Deere.

ZACH JOHNSON: You know, it's come along I've been struggling as of late, no question about that. A couple missed cuts, and I'm trying to get back to the basics. My fundamentals have been a little bit off, and the nice thing is when I get off, it's just going back to where I was. It's not like it's anything flashy. I don't have a flashy game. It's fairly simple when it's on. I'm just trying to get back to those days, those type of golf swings.

I'm feeling better about things. Today was somewhat encouraging, especially the back nine. You know, expectation wise, I'm going to try to win every week. That's what I want to do. But realistically, I think having little expectations sometimes is really good. You know, I want to have fun this week. I'm seeing family and friends, that's what's important. So if I don't have fun, I won't play well.

Q. How did Michelle play and do you think she can make the cut here?

ZACH JOHNSON: Oh, yeah, I think she can maybe be in contention. I don't think there's any doubt. She's good. I mean, she's a phenom. I've said it a bunch. When you have a phenom like that, regardless, male or female, you've got to showcase it in some sort of fashion. However that arena is set up, it doesn't matter. I mean, this is a great situation I think for her, her family, and then obviously for John Deere and the tournament. I think she can make the cut, yes. I think she can be in contention if she plays really well.

It comes down to the way she hit it today, she's not going to hit it any worse than what she did today. She hits it good. Her fundamentals are too pure to really miss it. Granted, you're going to have off days. It's going to come down to if you're making the puts. She could be hitting great putts and them not go in. It happens to us all the time. I mean, you could have someone that hits it awful but putts great and wins, so it just happens. I think her game is pretty scary. She's hitting a 4 iron from 210 yards, and I didn't do that until probably last week it seemed like. It's unbelievable.

Q. Was she the long one in the group?

ZACH JOHNSON: I'll be honest, no, she was not. She was consistently behind Aaron and I off the tee I'd say if we hit one hard we were probably 15 maybe by her. If she was out here full time I think she would average it's hard to say, but especially the conditions we play in, upwards of 275 I'd say, which is a little misleading because that means she can hit it 290.

Q. The greens are going to be a little bit slower this week because of the humidity and stuff. Does that play into her hands a little bit? Are they more LPGA Tour speed possibly?

ZACH JOHNSON: I don't know, I've never played on the LPGA Tour (laughter).

Q. Secondly, maybe you don't know a lot about 15 year old girls, but does she seem a little beyond her years?

ZACH JOHNSON: No question. I mentioned that to some of the other guys today. She walks high, her mannerisms are very mature. She's very, very classy, very professional. She's funny. She's generous, she's nice. She was just the epitome of a very happy and appreciative sponsor exemption. And like I said, she's only 15. It's scary. She definitely acts beyond her years.

But I'm sure when she's with her friends she has a good time with all her classmates and high school friends, and that's the way it should be.

Q. You mentioned that you think it's a good thing that she's here and that she got a sponsor exemption. There are some players who are not thrilled about it. Why do you think it's a good thing that she does get these opportunities?

ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I think I touched upon it a little bit. I think the best thing is, like I said, throw her sex aside, you have a phenomenal talent. When I say that, they don't come around very often. There's only so many Michelle Wies, Tiger Woodses, Michael Jordans, whoever it is, or entertainer for that matter.

With that being said, you have to find some sort of medium or some sort of arena to showcase it, and the Wie family and her team and this is what we want and this is where we want her to play to get better, and that's what their decision was, and the John Deere Classic, Sony for that matter, have opened their arms and said, "come play with us."

Personally I think it's great. I mean, I don't see any issues with it. She's taking supposedly a sponsor exemption away from the Quad City Amateur champion, who quite frankly isn't going to do much here. That being said, she's great. She's going to draw in some fans. She's going to like I said, I had a lot of junior golfers out here. It was great for the young girls to come out here. It's not an LPGA event but there's a woman in the field. That makes it that much more special.

I just think it's a win win situation on both the Wie side and the tournament side, through and through. It's going to help the charities a ton, ticket sales. They can say they're doing it for ticket sales; people don't realize that ticket sales go to charity. That's part of what our Tour is all about. I think it's phenomenal.

Q. Why do you think her presence has such a polarizing effect on people's opinions?

ZACH JOHNSON: I think it's because of her age, that and the fact that she missed the cut by one when she was 14 in a PGA event. It's everything. She's just a phenomenal talent. When you're standing behind her behind the ropes and you're seeing her hit a golf shot, you're like, "Wow, she just hit it just as far as so and so or just as straight and so and so and she's 15." It's unbelievable. It's not just one shot, it's every shot.

Q. It helps that the guys that she was playing with, you and everybody, you guys were younger guys. Did she seem pretty relaxed when she first got out there? Was she shy and then warmed up to you?

ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, she was very open to conversation and discussion. She initiated it and she chimed in when we were talking. So I think it was the perfect group because she had played with Craig before, I've done a couple things with her in the past, even in 2003, and she had met Aaron before, and Aaron is an easygoing guy. It was a great situation for her, plus her parents were out there walking with us and I met them and the others had met them, and I think it was just a perfect situation for her to get comfortable, and her dad mentioned that it's good for Michelle to play with guys or us Tour guys so that she can kind of feel at 15, a lot of learning is visual, and she's able to kind of feel and see and hear how we hit the golf ball or how we go about our business, and her dad just I can't speak on behalf of the LPGA, but her dad says she doesn't get to see that on the LPGA Tour or an amateur event, just the crispness and the compression and just our rhythm, our routine, everything we do on the golf course, it's good for her to pick up.

She's been out here with us, I don't know how many times she's played in a Tour event, two or three times, but I can understand at her age it's great to be in that a lot, just for the basic fact that visualization is huge, especially when you're at that age.

Q. Did you play a match?

ZACH JOHNSON: We did. We had a little match. It was me and Aaron versus Craig and Michelle, and they got us on the front nine but we spanked them on the back (laughter).

Q. Baddeley had a hole in one?

ZACH JOHNSON: He had a hole in one at 16. That helped.

Q. What do you think about all this extra media circus that's surrounding a player like Michelle? You've answered more questions about her than you have about herself. Does it make you a little jealous or is it good for the Tour?

ZACH JOHNSON: Far from jealous. I don't really have much to say about myself. There's really not a whole lot. I'm pretty simple. I think it's great. Like I said, it all stems back to the fact that she is a phenom, and having her in this sort of showcase arena, it's part of the it's the nature of the beast. It's going to happen. She's going to draw the attention, and rightfully so, and I think the best part about it is the way she handles it.

Q. What were you doing when you were 15?

ZACH JOHNSON: I wasn't hitting it that far, that's for sure (laughter). I was playing a lot of different sports, I can tell you that. Man, at 15, I don't think I had started growing yet. Not that I'm big now, I was very small.

But I was playing basketball and soccer and golf, of course, tennis. I had not chosen a path or any stretch as far as athletics went, but I was a sophomore in high school and I was just trying to figure out if I could get a date to the next dance. There are things that kids go through at that age, trying to not PO my parents. I was the eldest of the bunch in my family. My brother and sister had it easy. I paved the road.

Q. Could you even fathom going out at that age and standing in front of all these people let alone trying to hit a golf ball?

ZACH JOHNSON: Not at all. Not at all. I'm sure the first time she was in that sort of arena, I'm sure she was nervous, too. I'm sure she gets nervous every now and then. Quite frankly she's used to it now. She's 15 and she's used to it. Scary.

Q. You mentioned you met the Wies in 2003 at an event. Can you talk more specifically about what that was?

ZACH JOHNSON: It was at the Boise Open on the Nationwide Tour in 2003. I think at that point I was one of I think I was either one or two on the Tour. It was more or less like a greet and meet with some kids, and we did some pictures, and we maybe even hit some golf balls. I really don't remember, but that was nearly two years ago now, and I think she was taller than me then, too.

Q. How important is it for players like Michelle and then all the players in golf giving back to the kids, not necessarily that you can be Michelle Wie, but for future golf players and fans, for these kids to become?

ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I think it's huge. You know, golf in itself teaches kids a lot of things, just integrity in general, respect, honesty. I mean, I owe a lot to the game, as far as just being a person and a man, especially watching the girls, they learn how to carry themselves. You keep talking about how good she hits it and how good she putts and how good her game is, but it's also the way she carries herself. She's also 15 and she may say some things that could rub someone the wrong way, but she's 15. The bottom line is 95 percent of what she does and how she goes about her business is A1 professional class. It's awesome.

Q. For some of the guys that are having trouble with Michelle being here, do you think it's because maybe they think she should try to master the LPGA first?

ZACH JOHNSON: I can't speak on behalf of them. I have no idea.

Q. Do you think there's any validity to that?

ZACH JOHNSON: I don't have an opinion on the matter to be perfectly honest with you.

Q. I understand you played with Tiger. Was that in one of the practice rounds, and if so

ZACH JOHNSON: I did, Thursday and Friday.

Q. Can I ask you to sort of compare the galleries and how they react?

ZACH JOHNSON: Today was a practice round. Tiger's galleries are just swarms and swarms of people, especially girls.

Q. When you were at Drake, Zach, wasn't there another Johnson on the Drake golf team? Was he actually ranked ahead of you at one point?

ZACH JOHNSON: Ranked ahead of me? Neil Johnson was a freshman when I was a senior.

Q. That was the other Johnson?

ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, Neil, that's right. He beat me at conference. Maybe that's what you're referring to.


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