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November 2, 2004

Zach Johnson


TODD BUDNICK: We thank Zach Johnson for joining us at the 2004 Tour Championship. Zach, what a year it's been for you. You go from Nationwide Tour Player of the Year last year to your first Tour Championship. Talk about that jump and what it's been like, a win along the way at the Bell South Classic in Atlanta.

ZACH JOHNSON: It's been unbelievable. I had goals set at the beginning of the year coming off the Nationwide Tour, as having some success out there, I felt like I could play pretty well out here, and actually having some experience out here, as well.

My goal at the beginning of the year, aside from winning -- well, my goals were to win at least once, to play in the Tour Championship, to play in at least one major, and I think I got in three, and -- I lost my train of thought, but my goal was to get into a system like I got into last year, and I was able to get into that early and the Bell South helped me out with that because I got the first win early, and I was able to kind of settle down and not have to worry about status and that kind of thing.

It was an instrumental piece of my year.

TODD BUDNICK: After your success on the Hooters Tour and then on the Nationwide Tour, does it surprise you that it only took 13 Tour events to get that first victory.

ZACH JOHNSON: Well, a little bit, yes and no. It's kind of ironic that it happened here in Atlanta at Sugarloaf. I might have qualified there two years ago, played well that week in a tournament, missed the Top 10 by a couple shots and I managed to really butcher the 18th green.

You know, really, 13 events -- I mean, I don't know. Knowing that I had played Sugarloaf gave me confidence going into the week. I love the speed of the greens, I love the layout of the course. I had two good weeks there, and it kind of fed off the week before or I guess two weeks before at Bay Hill when I played well there. This game is a game of confidence and momentum and I just kept on going.

Q. If not for Todd Hamilton and his win at the British Open, you're the other candidate for Rookie of the Year. Is that something you thought about and is that something you had aspired to?

ZACH JOHNSON: Those type of honors and awards, that stuff takes care of itself. I don't really worry about that. It's a nice perk I would say, and I look at it as just a kind of honor. It would definitely be an honor. I'm not going to focus too much attention on that.

Like I told all my friends that are playing the mini-Tours and trying to get to the PGA TOUR, you know, you don't want to finish in the Top 25, you don't want to finish in the Top 10, you want to try to win. I'd be lying to you if I said I was trying to be Rookie of the Year; I'm trying to be Player At the Year. Although it's a little far-fetched, it's still something I was looking toe at the beginning of the year.

I think you've got to have that mindset out here. Everybody is obviously very, very, very good, but if you're trying to finish in the Top 10 every week or trying to make the cut, things go astray and my focus gets off what's important. Some of the best weeks I've had out here have been weeks I've missed cuts. I've learned so much, whether it's by one shot or four shots, whatever it's been. I'm learning every week.

I mean, Todd is what, 55, 60? He's not really a rookie.

TODD BUDNICK: You're also following in the footsteps of the defending champion of this tournament. Chad also had a lot of success on the Nationwide Tour and in this tournament. How do you view your chances for this week?

ZACH JOHNSON: I've got to good vibes in Atlanta for sure. I've got a lot of friends in this area, actually some business investors of mine, years previous, live close by. I've got family coming down, so that type of thing, that support is awesome. One of my current sponsors, they have an office here, so it's just those little things that help the sport -- I'm just looking forward to a great week.

I was actually in Houston last year for some sort of media thing after the Nationwide, and Chad won the Champions because they made me a tape of it. My wife brought it out to me and he'd you've got to watch this. It was kind of funny. It was Mike Tirico interviewing me, and he said when he finished, I guess we'll see you in Atlanta in two years? Looking back on it, I was like, "I hope so," but here I am. It's definitely a dream come true. I'm going to treat it as any other week as I've told others, but it's nice knowing that I made another cut.

Q. A lot of young -- not young, there are no young rookies much anymore in golf, but a lot of rookies are playing really well this year; eight I think in the 125, five winners, and two of you guys here; to what do you attribute this success?

ZACH JOHNSON: I think you can look at it a few ways. I think the biggest reason is, one, there's so much talent in this game. The top Tour and the tours below it, so much talent, whether old or young. I think when you're winning on any level, whether it's -- you can say collegiately, if you're winning collegiately at some of these events at big schools in tournaments, maybe mini-Tours, whether they're state opens, Hooters Tour, Golden Bear Tour, Gateway Tour, those tours are all stacked with players, players that have played out here, players that have played the Nationwide, overseas, and it's just a matter of time. If you win on any of those levels, that's huge. I think Ryan Palmer said at Disney when he was interviewed - he's a good friend of mine - and he said, "winning on the Tight Lies Tour," he won the Tight Lies title a couple years, "and then winning on the Nationwide Tour just gave me the confidence so I can play up here," and then he eventually won out here very quick. Vaughn Taylor played the Hooters Tour with me, worked his way up to the Nationwide Tour, and, I mean, winning on any level I think is crucial. I mean, Tiger is the best example. He won everything when he was a junior, won everything as an amateur, and then won everything --

Q. In college?

ZACH JOHNSON: Collegiately, exactly. I just think that comparatively if you want to succeed -- I'm not going to go that far. Never mind.

Q. This week you say you've got friends here, business going on. The other part, you made a cut, you get a guaranteed check --

ZACH JOHNSON: Not much business; a lot of fun.

Q. What realistically is your mindset when you come to a tournament like this? Everything is set for next year, only 30 guys in the field. Realistically how do you mentally prepare and think about this tournament?

ZACH JOHNSON: Just like any other one, to be perfectly honest. I'm seeing all these golf courses for the first time with the exception of Sugarloaf and a couple others, John Deere. Being a rookie that's -- my preparation going into the week is not any different than any other week. The nice thing this week, we had a Pro-Am today so I was able to play nine holes yesterday, 18 today and now tomorrow. I took last week off to prepare for this week. I was a little tired, so I took Tampa off. I wanted to play Tampa because I know it's a great golf course. I feel rested, ready mentally and physically. Well, somewhat physically. It's been a long year. I'm not used to starting in January.

Q. It's been a long year, but it's the end of the year. Do you allow yourself to sit back and say "this has been great"?

ZACH JOHNSON: It's the end of the year on Tour, it's not necessarily the end of the year for golf, for sure. There's a lot of events -- I leave here Sunday night and fly straight to Phoenix and play Monday and Tuesday in an event there. Mentally you have to rest up, I think. It's not any different. It's still 18 holes every day, a 72-hole tournament. To treat it any different, things can go astray and mentally your focus can go -- get a little off, I think. I'm learning, though. Ask me that next year and I'll probably have a better answer.

Q. Do you talk about you're learning every week, what are some of the things that you've learned, and do you ask a lot of advice from veterans?

ZACH JOHNSON: A lot of things. I'm learning both on and off the golf course.

TODD BUDNICK: You've learned how to back up an RV.

ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, we got an RV coach this year about a third of the way through the season, I'd say. I had some struggles early on, with the likes of some of the veterans, Davis Love, Craig Bowden, they've brought me along. They're my neighbors.

Q. Did you back into something?

ZACH JOHNSON: No, no bad experiences fortunately. Our bus is still in one piece, so it's good.

Specifically there's things -- like I missed the cut in Charlotte. I doubled the last hole. If I had made bogey I would have made the cut. I tried to make a shot that I should not have attempted, something as specific as that, but also something as vague as just getting a better routine Monday through Wednesday, whether it's when to work out, when to practice, when to be stretched, when to relax. It can be a lot of things, both on and off the course.

One of the things a lot of the veterans told me last year on the Nationwide Tour that have been up here -- I was pretty close with all the Nationwide -- it's a great tour camaraderie-wise. It's a close-nit group, so I was close to a lot of the graduating kids that came up here, but a lot of the veterans told me, you get out here, play with your friends in practice rounds but try to play with the big names, veterans, so you get used to it, so you get comfortable playing around some of these -- you could almost say they're celebrities for sure. That's helped a ton, whether it's the galleries or if it's just being around them and see how they act or react, that's been instrumental in helping my game, I think.

Q. Kind of going along with that, what kind of process did you go through as far as convincing yourself that you belong with the names that are up here in this tournament?

ZACH JOHNSON: I don't know if it was a process. I think it's just years and years of experience that's gotten me to this point. You know, everybody asks what's the difference between say the last two or three years and this year as far as just the steps up, and I think, especially last year to this year, I think it was about a half a step up. I say that -- there's a lot of factors why. The golf courses are a little more difficult, the fields are obviously deeper and more tailored, but you can get caught up in star shock, I think, but the more you're around it, it kind of blends in. It's part of the atmosphere.

Yeah, I sit back, like I'll be done practicing and of course Vijay is still practicing so I'll watch him hit balls. What it comes down to is they're guys like me. On weekends in the fall their focus is college football like mine. Knowing that they're just as normal as I am calms you down. Everybody is great. I'm just fortunate enough to be here.

I didn't answer your question very well.

Q. I remember writing in March about your winning in Duluth that you had a victory but you weren't going to get to the Masters, didn't qualify. Now you are qualified.

ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm excited about that. One of the big questions, I think, actually I think you were sitting there at the Bell South, was they did away with the champion playing The Masters, how do you feel about that? It just seemed like everybody wanted me to get -- truly, honestly, I knew going into the event that regardless of what happens I can't play The Masters. Being a fan of this game, being a player of the game, I love The Masters. I watched every second of it. It didn't bother me. Now knowing that I'm playing in it, it's still kind of surreal. I told the guys then, you know, things will take care of themselves. If I'm meant to play, I'll eventually play. I feel like there's an ultimate plan for me and I'm just kind of following it. I feel blessed to be able to play in The Masters next year, and I think if I finish in the Top 20 I can play in every major. That's still very surreal to me.

Q. Have you made any plans to play the practice rounds?

ZACH JOHNSON: I haven't. I've got some friends that are members and that type of thing. Maybe some of the players -- once you know you're in or something like that?

Q. As long as it's open.

ZACH JOHNSON: Right, so yeah, I don't know.

Q. I think Phil said he's going next week.

ZACH JOHNSON: I've heard players say that once you know you're in, they've gone out and played 15 times prior to the event. I may have to do that.

Q. They don't have a limit on how many times you can come over for a practice round, provided that you are qualified.

ZACH JOHNSON: I think you're right. I know they have good egg salad sandwiches now. They're like 50 cents, too.

Q. When did you go?

ZACH JOHNSON: I was on the Hooters Tour that year. 2001 or 2002, just a Monday.

Q. Do you remember who won that year? I can figure it out.

ZACH JOHNSON: Probably Tiger. Oh, it might have been Vijay. It was really, really wet on Monday, the day I went.

TODD BUDNICK: 2002 was nice, '03 was wet.

ZACH JOHNSON: I know it was '01. Vaughn Taylor, he's got ways to get tickets. Me and a couple of the Hooters Tour guys went out there and walked around and tried to find a weed but couldn't find one.

End of FastScripts.

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