I’ve always taken a liking to Zach Johnson.
He’s never been an unambiguous favorite of mine, as I have an affinity for a good number players on Tour. I like Steve Stricker. I like Brandt Snedeker. I find myself pulling for a cast of other American talent– Jim Furyk, Jordan Spieth, Webb Simpson, among others. Jason Day has earned my respect. Victor Dubuisson has earned my intrigue. There aren’t many players for which I share disdain in professional golf.
After all, golfers by nature are easy to like.
But Zach’s always been a unique player in my eyes. This could be for a number of reasons.
Maybe its his stature (standing well under 6 feet) and his undeniable competitive fire that flares from time-to-time. On Tour, he plays the role of David to a number of Goliaths. He racks up the wins despite it.
A major part of my liking for Zach Johnson probably plays into his Midwestern roots– a born and raised Iowan (though I’ve never had a love for Iowa by any means…). He’s a man of strong Christian faith and family. It’s something I respect and can identify with.
I think back to the stories of his days at Drake University. He was not a highly recruited player by a host of universities out of high school. Reports of his college years state he was the number 2 or 3 player on the Drake team. You’d think he’d be the top bulldog (no pun intended…Drake…).
He was overlooked throughout his youth and collegiate years, an underdog throughout.
More factors play into my fan-hood of Zach Johnson.
I’ve spent some time over the past few winters at his (long-time) instructor’s teaching facility, the Mike Bender Golf Academy. I’ve talked with Mike briefly and read all accounts for his teaching career– most notably his prize pupil, Zach.
I read about Bender’s caddying for Johnson in the John Deere Classic and earning a win. I read about Zach’s Masters title in 2007 and saw his signed scorecards from the event. Any golf junkie loves thumbing through and gawking at that stuff. I spent time hitting some wedges onto the famous concrete blocks that have created so many phenomenal wedge players.
For the record, none of these shots found concrete, despite the club twirl (video here).
I flipped through Golf Digest a few weeks back, and I found this Stevie Williams feature and I absolutely loved the Zach Johnson narrative he shared:
SOME PLAYERS can’t be intimidated. Zach Johnson is at the top of that list. He knows his game, its strengths and limitations, and he trusts it. There isn’t a person or situation that is going to make him play beyond his capabilities or take risks he shouldn’t take. In fact, he’ll embrace who he is even more and relish the challenge of beating someone with a bigger game. It doesn’t mean Zach will win every time, it just means he won’t lose because of the guy standing across from him.
I love that.
The righthand man to the most intimidating golfer in his generation said that a small-town Iowa boy was unintimidatable (someone grab a dictionary on that one). It shows the mental fortitude of the man and his ability to do only what he’s capable of executing.
Think back to his win at the Masters in 2007. He famously laid up on all par-5s and went on to make 11 birdies over the week. His wedge play was great, sure, but it was his complete and utter commitment to a plan that won him that green jacket. He’s a Masters champion that doesn’t necessarily fit the mold.
Zach’s game isn’t built on length. It isn’t built on overpowering golf courses.
His physical limitations allow him to more acutely commit to his strengths.
And look back to the word used above– built. His game is built, quietly, but thoughtfully. He analyzes each part of his game and works to refine and edit that aspect of his game to find something that fits.
He’s not out seeking overhauls to add distance and keep up with the bombers. He has a process, a way in which to build an effective golf game and he’s committed to it.
It’s this commitment that’s made Zach Johnson a winner across all levels of professional golf. He was a winner on the Nationwide Tour when he turned pro. See below:
And he continued that success onto the world’s biggest Tour. See again:
It’s pretty clear from his results that he’s built something sustainable, something repeatable, something effective. That, polished around a solid mental game, and this quiet spoken man of faith from Cedar Rapids is a tough player to reckon with.
And he won’t be intimidated. According to Stevie Williams, he can’t be.
Think about what would happen to your game if you developed a game plan and stuck to it like Zach Johnson.
Do you like what you see?