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July 6, 2011

Zach Johnson


THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome Zach Johnson. Zach, you're getting ready to make your tenth start here at the John Deere Classic. I know you played nine holes yesterday. If you want to talk a little bit about the course and your thoughts coming into your tenth event here.
ZACH JOHNSON: Sure. It's hard to believe it's been ten years, but to get the first two were sponsor exemptions that John Deere was kind enough to give me. Thank you.
And yeah, I mean I love coming back here. The last decade has been tremendous. I've seen a lot of friendly faces, a lot of family, a lot of friends, a lot of -- I'm now serving on the board for I don't know how many years, it's probably been at least six or seven years on the John Deere Classic tournament board. It's been a great learning experience.
Clair and Isaac prior to that, Kim Hoffman, but Clair in particular has been a great friend and actually someone to council with on a lot of things that I'm trying to do. So I'm excited about this year.
Yeah, I played the front nine yesterday just to kind of get it going again and had a great front nine. It was fun. I mean the course is kind of playing the way I think everybody tries to envision it. You guys can correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's been almost a week since you got rain or substantial rain, so the course is starting to dry out a little bit, which is nice.
Any time you have dry conditions on bent grass it provides more of a test. The course plays shorter, but it also plays more difficult as a result. And I mean it's TPC Deere Run, and we're near the John Deere headquarters, so of course, it's pristine for obvious reasons.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks a lot.

Q. What would it mean to you to win this tournament not only because it's your hometown, but because the field just keeps getting stronger from year to year?
ZACH JOHNSON: It would mean a lot. I mean I've got so many attachments to this tournament. This was my second PGA start ever, first and foremost. And then you know, like I said before, I mean just having so many friends and knowing the ins and outs as to what this tournament does and why it does what it does, specifically the charitable aspect and the people they're helping in this community and the communities of eastern Iowa, western Illinois. I mean I know that's the core of this tournament.
And so to play here is tremendous, but to hopefully win it one day would be -- I mean you can kind of say it's my fifth major. So maybe even fourth behind the U.S. Open. I didn't say that. Never mind. Fifth major. Fifth major. So yeah, I'm excited. I love it.

Q. Does the added desire to win this tournament create any hurdles or make it more difficult to win? Do you put more pressure on yourself?
ZACH JOHNSON: No, not any more. I think at one time I did, specifically my first few years here. But no, not anymore.
I mean I haven't played well here, with the exception of maybe one week. So I'm not -- the way I look at it is the more I try -- if I try and try and try, it's not going to happen. I just gotta let it happen, and that's my outlook this week. It's my outlook for the rest of the year, not that it shouldn't be like -- it should be that way every week. But if I can eliminate the try and just go out and play, I think positive results can happen.
And you know, I may not come out on top, but you need the fortunate breaks to win. I mean I played really, really, really good and probably top ten, top five, and I played good and won. So you gotta have some good kicks, couple lip-ins instead of lip-outs, and you know, those sort of gratuitous bounces and rolls to win. So I'm not going to try to get too ahead of myself. I don't have any expectations this week.

Q. So Stricker's is a lucky (indiscernible)?
ZACH JOHNSON: I didn't say that. (Laughs). I didn't say that. He's a machine.

Q. Zach, you're at a time when players are putting their new irons in the bag. Are you making equipment changes this week and is it normal for you to do so at this time of year?
ZACH JOHNSON: I am not. I'm not ruling it out. I've actually been one of the last probably to put the new driver into play, too, so I take a pretty good amount of time in trying to filter new equipment in.
I've seen new irons. I've played them briefly and they're great. I mean aesthetically they're beautiful. So probably won't. Irons are probably the easiest thing to take in and take out because they're so close to the previous generation, but with some minor aesthetics and probably better technology. So I don't think it'll take that long, but this week is not right for me.

Q. Do the numbers that have gone up the past two years, do you go to the first tee with a different mentality on a golf course like this?
ZACH JOHNSON: The numbers. Oh, the scores you mean. Oh, well, certainly sometimes. I mean when you come out to a tournament, especially if you tee late on Thursday or late on Friday and you see a 60 or 59 posted, you're like, wow, okay, I better play good.
Those kind of things, you gotta be -- I don't want to be cliche, but you gotta throw that aside and just play hole-by-hole golf, shot-by-shot golf. But yeah, you'd be foolish not to think, man, it must be there for the taking if guys are shooting that low.
This year if it stays dry, the forecast is good, knock on wood, I'm not going to say it won't happen because nothing seems to surprise me anymore, but I'd be shocked if we see that low of number because there's some run on the fairways; there is some rough, and the greens are certainly a little bit more firm. With humid conditions you gotta keep the greens saturated, otherwise they'll start to turn purple and brown, and that could make for easier scoring conditions, too. So I don't know. It's all Mother Nature at this point I think that determines.
Last year -- I'm not going to say it wasn't an anomaly, but it was one of those freak years where we had rain and the greens were receptive but yet they were still rolling good; they weren't too fast and you could be aggressive. That's why you saw 59, 60, and there was a lot of other low numbers that week.

Q. (Indiscernible)?
ZACH JOHNSON: No. I don't have a number in mind. Is that what you're asking?

Q. Yeah.
ZACH JOHNSON: No. No. Better than par.

Q. Zach, your last tournament you had an average front nine and played tremendous on the back nine. Here you've shot 28 on the front nine. Is the front nine the scoring nine here?
ZACH JOHNSON: I gotta think about that one. The front nine. No, I mean I think it's all wind based. It depends on where the wind is coming from. I think that for me determines which side is easier. All in all I'd say the front nine is a little bit there for the taking.
There's a few holes -- well, 1's a birdie hole. 2's obviously a birdie hole, par-5. 3 and 4 are great. 5, 6 I guess you could even throw 8 in there that for the most part you don't have to hit driver. I mean 8 I'm hitting driver, but 5 and 6 are 3-wood, wedges, that sort of thing, that you know, you feel like you gotta at least give yourself a good chance at birdie. So there's more birdie opportunities I think on the front nine.
There's a drivable par-4 on the back and there's a reachable par-5 on 17, depending on the wind, and there's birdie holes on the back, too. However, I think when you combine 18, 15 and probably like 11, there's some really -- 12's a par-3. There's some good holes on the back nine that you gotta be conservative, you know.

Q. You hit five birdies in a row. What's going on there? Are you getting in a rhythm?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah. I'm making putts.

Q. Are you making putts or are you just striking it?
ZACH JOHNSON: I hit it great last week. My second round I shot 2-under. I had 34 putts. I had two one-putts for birdie. I think I hit 17 greens or 18 greens. It must have been 18 greens, or 18 times. I think I was on the fringe once or twice.
It's just a matter of making putts. I've been hitting the ball great. So I don't think it's fundamental. I don't think it's any more than just getting out of my own way, going back to, as I said, trying not to try, if that makes any sense.

Q. Zach, with tomorrow being Iowa Day, does that kind of give you a little bit extra, all the Iowa guys out here, all the fans?
ZACH JOHNSON: Oh, yeah. It's going to make me play a lot harder. (Laughs).

Q. Hawkeyes?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean even if it wasn't Iowa Day, it is Iowa Day, the way I look at it. It doesn't matter where I go, doesn't matter what tournament it is, every British Open I've played in, there's I don't even know how many, but there's black and gold there. There's "go Bulldogs." There's go -- well, unfortunately Iowa State. There's go everything. (Laughs). Actually got to meet (indiscernible). He's a good dude. The mayor.
I mean the support every week is ridiculous. And this is just one that's kind of probably magnified and heightened, but it's awesome. I mean it's awesome. The black and gold being eastern Iowa certainly come out a lot more than the others.
But I got a guy today caddying for me that as an auction item that helped out my alma mater. So things like that. It's just a cool atmosphere for me.

Q. Zach, since time has passed since that initial announcement, how are things progressing with the Kids on Course program and also with the Pro Am coming up next week?
ZACH JOHNSON: No. Thanks for asking. It's progressing nicely. I just met with my chairman of my foundation yesterday, Pat Cobb, and they've made a lot of good leeway. They've done a lot of work as of late, and it's coming into shape and form.
Right now it's essentially crossing the T's and dotting the I's, just trying to get some of the specifics ironed out and that sort of thing. So we've got a great field. We've got -- really it just comes down to weather. We just want a nice day because it's going to be tremendous, what we're doing and why we're doing it. The program in general is on course, it's evolving.

Q. Can you be specific in how the money is going to be dispersed?
ZACH JOHNSON: Oh, yeah, it's very specific. Kids on Course is not a program -- it's not a charity. It's a program for kids in Cedar Rapids, two pilot schools we have that we've chosen, strategic for a number of reasons. I don't need to get into those.
And this program is going to give these kids opportunities that probably a lot of us in this room had as kids growing up; the basic things, the kid wants to play on a baseball team, he can do that. Kid needs academic support, great. Maybe the kid needs to go get a pair of tennis shoes. Whatever experiences or opportunities that child needs.
We're collaborating with the community leaders, certainly the superintendent of schools, a number of other grass root organizations, families, parents, principals, and that collaboration has been absolutely humbling because everybody's in for the same reason, to help these kids, just enrich their lives and help them make proper choices down the road and evolve into quality kids, not that they're not, but just to give them those opportunities that I had as a kid.

Q. Zach, the Rory McIlroys and the Jason Days, is there anything different about them specifically coming out?
ZACH JOHNSON: I don't know. I think a little bit maybe. I think for the most part just seems like there's all these kids. They're all these good young talent. I think if there is a difference now, it's the kids now, those teenagers and 20-somethings, they started playing the game at a really young age, a lot younger than I did, and they attach to it for the long haul at a much younger age.
I mean I didn't really choose golf until halfway through my high school years. I was still playing everything under the sun and whatever sport was that time of year I was still playing it. These kids now seems like they pick golf up at like six and that's all they do.

Q. Is that a Tiger thing?
ZACH JOHNSON: Probably has a little bit to do with it. I can't answer that. I don't know. A little bit. I think more of it has to do with the fact that there's these academies now; there's knowledge out there. There's teachers out there that provide a golf platform and foundation at a very young age, and they follow it. They just hit -- like a train, they just hop on board and they go with it.
I've seen it. I've seen it at the academy where my coach is, Mike Bender. He's got kids out there that -- well, one in particular, I knew him when he was ten years old. Now he won the U. S. Public Links, he graduated from the University of Michigan and now he's turning pro. That's just one example. There's kids like that everywhere, in the United States and abroad.
Obviously -- you mentioned a bunch of them, these kids, (indiscernible) for example, how old is he? Is he even 20 yet? And Manassero is 17, 18. It's happening everywhere. And they're talented and all they do is eat, sleep and bleed golf.
Q. Since you've been here, can you talk about the growth of this tournament, the amount of major winners, yourself included, that are making this a stop?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah. I think it's awesome. I think, you know, everybody talks about John Deere and the dates. Right? Is it the most ideal date? Well, no, it's not. And most of you guys are from around here. The best date in this time, in this climate, in this area would be probably, what, late September, I guess, but then you're up against football and you're up against you'd be post FedEx too. So there's a number of reasons why you want to be in the FedEx Playoffs and in the summer.
So given that, it's still not an ideal date before the British Open. However, I think John Deere's embraced it even more than that. They've really gone out of their way to make this a phenomenal tournament. It's a family-oriented tournament. That's where it starts; that's where it ends, and along those lines, they're trying to help families.
So I think it's awesome. I think a lot of my peers grasp what John Deere is all about. It's the big dig. It's to the Midwest people, that's what it's all about.
No, I think it can still get better. I think eventually it will. The word is still getting out there that -- having the chartered jet to the British Open helps tremendously. I mean you can't deny that John Deere has gone out of their way to make it an easy transport from here across the pond. That's why you have Louie here. I mean that's not the main reason, but one of the reasons why you have Louie here and a lot of those other guys. Stewart's here. And the names go on and on.
I think it could be better. I would hope that they're not content with where they are. I mean I know a lot of the guys. I know Clair's not. He's always trying to make it bigger and better and trying to exceed the previous year, and what business wouldn't.
But yeah, I know they're -- I'm just appreciative of how they've really embraced this date and made it the tournament that it is.

Q. Are you surprised how well it's gone over this past decade?
ZACH JOHNSON: No. I'm not surprised at all. The golf course has a lot to do with it. Guys like the golf course. Sometimes that's convincing enough to come play. And FedExCup points.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks a lot, Zach, for your time. And good luck this week.

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