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Zach Johnson Back on 'Home' Turf


Though he hasn't matched the record at the John Deere Classic of three-time winner Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson hasn't done too badly in the PGA Tour stop.

Johnson, a nine-time Tour winner, including the 2007 Masters Tournament, returns to the Deere as the defending champion. The $4.6 million event starts Thursday at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill.

Last year, he made up a four-stroke deficit on 54-hole leader Troy Matteson to force a sudden-death playoff. Both players made a mess of the first extra hole - the par-4 18th - as both hit into a water hazard and posted double-bogey sixes.

But the second time around, Johnson stuck a 6-iron from 193 yards to within inches of the pin and made the winning birdie putt.

Stricker, seeking to become only the fifth player in history to win four straight titles in the same tournament last, was in contention on the back nine before he carded bogeys on the 15th and 16th holes. The Wisconsin native finished four strokes out of the playoff.

Like his good friend Stricker, the tournament is close to Johnson's heart, as the Iowa native grew up not far from Silvis and TPC Deere Run serves as his home course. Two victories in a row at the John Deere Classic would be special indeed for the 37-year-old.

On Tuesday, Johnson met with reporters and discussed last year's victory and his chances to repeat this week.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome the defending champion of the John Deere Classic, Zach Johnson. Zach, thanks for joining us for a few minutes. You are making your 12th consecutive start here at the John Deere Classic, and you've had a lot of success here. In addition to the win, you've had top 5 finishes in 2011 and '09, and you've missed only one cut in the last 10 years.

ZACH JOHNSON: Thank you.

MODERATOR: With that being said, just your thoughts being back here at the John Deere Classic?

ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I think my thoughts are the same as they were last year when I came here. I love it. I'm probably going to be echoing everything I've said in the past. I love everything about this tournament, how they go about their business, what John Deere does, what Clair Peterson does for the community, and for all of us players and families. I love the golf course. It's in great shape, as usual, and I just like coming back and seeing faces and friends and family. It feels like my backyard in a lot of respects, and fortunately I've had some success here. And I'm trying to put 2012 behind me. It's not like just because I won I've got a three shot lead going into Thursday, so I frankly have to put it behind me, and that's going to be my approach.

MODERATOR: So far in 2013 you finished third in your finish at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial title, so just a little about your game coming into the week?

ZACH JOHNSON: Like many of the guys that are here know, I'm pretty positive when it comes to my game and my mentality. Once again, I feel really good. I feel good mentally. I feel better physically, almost. My golf game is in a much better form than it was in the beginning of the year. I've said it a couple of times, and I hate to admit it, but my golf game was not where it needed to be early on in the year, and that was just a process to kind of get where I am now. I was off fundamentally more than I cared to admit, especially with my driver. If I can't drive the ball on the fairway, it's going to be difficult for me. Now my driver's probably one of, if not the best, club in my bag again. So I like the direction it's going. It's convenient that this week falls in the schedule now, but it doesn't matter. I've still got to be patient. My putting has been very up and down, so on any given week, you have to putt well to climb the board, and hopefully this is one of those weeks. If it's not, I know I'm going to make progress because I'm confident and I'm playing decent golf.

Q. (Indiscernible) what do you remember about being an issue 12, 13 years ago and in a similar situation?

ZACH JOHNSON: Well, the similarity was we had sponsor exemptions, so that would be probably about it. My resume as an amateur paled in comparison to what his is already. That's where the similarities stop. He's already won a massive amateur event in Pennsylvania. He was exempt for this. He's exempt for that, and he's not even a senior in college yet. I was trying to crack the top three on my college team. Yeah, we're both Iowans. There is another similarity. But great kid, great demeanor. It seems like he's a bit mature beyond his young years, you know? Once again, not similar to what I was. Obviously, he's good. He's a good ball striker. It's hard to tell in the practice round how good a putter you really are, just because we're just practicing. So my assumption is he's got a good short game based on his resume and based on the fact that he's playing this week. Got to meet his family. Good Iowa folks.

It's good to see. I like seeing the fact that we've got other guys, kids coming out of the state that are playing well, and some of the older guys. I still don't think he's old, but Sean McCarty, I've known Sean for I don't know how long - 25 years, 20 something years, and he's playing again this week. No surprise. He's always a guy that we looked up to. I'm sure there are more to come. I know Caine Fitzgerald, the guy from Cedar Rapids is a year or two older than me, and he's playing the PGA Championship this year. So state of the game in Iowa is very good. You know, Steven looks hungry, and it's good to see. He's got a good team. He's got a great coach. He came from a great facility, and outside of Dubuque there, and they're doing good things at Iowa. So it's good to see.

Q. Zach, is this week anymore plum being the defending champ instead of coming here being a tournament that people are asking you, hey, when are you going to win this thing?

ZACH JOHNSON: It doesn't feel any different. I've got to be perfectly honest with you. The welcoming here is so warm, regardless. It's probably why I mean, granted, I like the golf course. I think it does suit me. I like the greens. They suit me. But why I feel so comfortable and so normal here is the fact that I've played well here, so I'm confident. But it's the support I've always received here. If I miss the cut, that ain't going away. 85 or 65, it doesn't matter. So this year just feels like another year. In some respects, last year, and the shot on 18 felt like yesterday. But for the most part it feels like it was a lot longer than a year ago.

I want to retain some of those good feelings I had from last year, but for the most part, I want to throw it away and go ply. I did it at Colonial this year and I had a chance, and there is no reason I shouldn't do that again this year. But I'm on the board of this tournament, and that's a minor responsibility. They rely on me to some degree. I see all the board members, and it just feels like every year rolls into the next year. Literally, the outcome on the golf course is not irrelevant, but it's not that important.

Q. Just wanted to go back to Steven real quick. He talked about how he wanted to soak everything in. How much do you pay attention to him, and how much back and forth was there?

ZACH JOHNSON: How much did he pay attention to me?

Q. Yeah.

ZACH JOHNSON: I have no idea.

Q. How much talk back and forth, was there interaction between the two of you? In a practice round like this, what do you want to talk about with other players?

ZACH JOHNSON: Sure. Well, first of all, we had a bad starting on 3, and we drummed them, so that's good. No, that's not true. I beat him one up, it was me and Scott Langley versus Steven and Patrick Rodgers so it was fun. They have both asked me questions. I've been in their shoes, and I've done the same thing, whether it was with Davis or Duval or some of these older guys back in the day. Good friends of mine now, Verplank, one of my good buddies. I've asked these guys questions, even guys on the Champions Tour, Lehman and Jay Haas, all those guys. Even if you're a sponsors' exemption or rookie, you want to soak it in and get some knowledge.

The information I give them or advice I give them is they've got to pick it apart. It's not exactly set in stone. I mean, it may work for me, but it may not work for them. They play different games, Patrick in particular, he kills it. So there are things like that, but they've both asked me good questions. Nothing too strategic with the golf course, but just kind of what are you doing during the practice round? What are you looking for two days out before the tournament? That kind of thing. There were questions off the golf course, which is good. I thought that was pretty mature of them to ask those kind of questions. It's nine holes and it's brief. It's two hours and whatever, two hours and 30 minutes, so there is only so much you can do. But they were also trying to get used to the golf course themselves and play, so you're focused on your game too. But we had a great time. They were both really nice gentlemen.

Q. Did you talk about (Indiscernible) at all?

ZACH JOHNSON: We did not. But you want to?

Q. What was your reaction the first time you got to see a Zach Johnson bobble head or talk about it?

ZACH JOHNSON: I came back for media day, so I've seen them numerous times since. I have a couple myself. I don't know how many I've signed. I've probably signed a dozen of them since that month. I've signed a bunch for the tournament. But I've signed around the golf course probably about ten to a dozen of them. Everybody keeps saying this actually looks like you. Stricker doesn't look like - whatever. Just, whatever, they're cool for what they are. But, yeah, it's a nice little feature that John Deere put out there. I think it's certainly for little kids, but to raise some money and funds, so that's great if it helps.

Q. A little R & R last week, do you feel recharged or refreshed this week?

ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah. I played Hartford. I kind of felt like I didn't play great there, so I thought maybe I should just keep playing, but we had our schedule set. I took two weeks off, and every time I take two weeks off, I'm like, gosh, it could be another week. Just because in the middle of summer, you feel like you need it, and I've got a big stretch coming up where I'm going to be playing five of the next six, yeah. Five of the next six. It was good. We were on vacation as a family, and then we went home for a little bit, and I went back to Cedar Rapids for a family get together too. There was some rest. I don't know how much rest there is with three kids and an 8 month old. Relatively speaking, t was good. I feel from a golf standpoint, I'm refreshed and I'm ready to start competing again. So that was the purpose of it. I needed a two week break. I figured it out. I was home for four days last week, counting those four days, I think I'm home for ten days since that point, in the next three and a half months. So that puts things in perspective pretty quick for me. The reasons why I'm not home are all good. I mean, I've got my brother's wedding, things of that nature, so that's good.

Q. How talented do you think the competition is?

ZACH JOHNSON: Just like any week on Tour. Just like any John Deere in the previous years and future years. The depth of this tournament and this Tour is ridiculous. It is the best Tour in the world, and it doesn't matter where we're playing or what the field looks like, they're all good. I've always said it. If you don't know the names, you're going to know them at some point because they're all too good.

Q. The last four Deere Championships playing a threesome going out on Thursday. Did you play - how much have you played (Indiscernible)?

ZACH JOHNSON: It's a phenomenal pairing. Two of the best guys you could ever be around. I'm probably a little closer to Davis just because he's a neighbor, and I probably played more with Davis throughout the years. But two guys that also, I mean, they're model pros. I say that very genuinely. They very much go about their business in golf and outside of the ropes, I think, the way everybody should. Both are family men first and that sort of thing. But, yeah, Stricks, I remember playing my rookie year, and he was starting to make his comeback. Whatever year that was, '05, '04, and he was trying to make his comeback. Just the nicest guy you can imagine, you know? Firm handshake, and great conversation, and he put the work in, and now he's one of the best players in the world, and he doesn't play. Somehow he's got a pretty good formula working. But he is playing in the Zach Johnson Foundation Classic. Appearance fee. Just kidding.

Q. In regards to the foundation, why does someone as busy as you make it such a point to spend so much time and energy and focus on making sure that you can give back?

ZACH JOHNSON: I appreciate you asking that. Well, it's a responsibility, first and foremost. I don't see it any other way. This game has provided so much for me and my family and my friends that I think you'd be foolish not to utilize the platform the game has given you and establish some sort of way to give. It just so happens my vehicle is my foundation. We went into it my rookie year, and we did have a charity arm, if you will, with my wife and a key sponsor, but we've now amped it up. And we've had well Iowa for that matter behind us, but specifically Cedar Rapids and Eastern Iowa pushing us and have been instrumental in being part of what we're trying to do in our initiatives. It's one of those things that I certainly take pride in it, but it's more so something I'm called upon to do. You know, I think, and not to be cliché, but to whom much is given, much is expected. And I've been given so much from hitting a ball, chasing it and hitting it again, so it's just the right thing to do.

And it's amazing when you get good people around you, what great things you can do and great things we can do together. My board in particular is the epitome of that, and I would say our community is right behind it. So we've got some pretty awesome momentum in Cedar Rapids with Kids On Course and with Birdies That Care. We don't know what the future is going to hold, but that is also the exciting part. So we're providing opportunities, which is fun.

Q. Is it strange not having (Indiscernible) on the bag?

ZACH JOHNSON: It's strange having him here and Damon, after last year. I actually texted him, I don't remember when it was, maybe a week ago, week and a half ago. I knew he was going on family vacation. I said, can I see you? And he said I have a family vacation. And I forgot about the trip. I was like, am I going to see you? He's like, I'm coming to John Deere. And I was like, oh, I forgot. But it's nice. He works with Jonathan Byrd as well. And he's going to be here the bulk of the week. He mentioned that he's going to try to follow me Thursday, Friday, whatever. But he said he's going to be watching Damon, not me. So just seeing if he's doing things properly. He is 1 for 1, and I think he's retired.

Q. Your question about charity can lead to a good segue to this. You either Tweeted or are Tweeting people to bring this book, which is the commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the PGA Tour Wives Association. They have published a book that contains recipes and inside stories of PGA Tour families like the Johnsons. And with Zach being the defending champion and with such a history here, we thought we'd take the TPC Deere Run up on the Johnson's recipes which is Zack's mother in law, world famous Chex Mix?

ZACH JOHNSON: Southeastern style.

MODERATOR: And we're going to try. But if we could get a quick comment on the book. The proceeds go towards charity, which kind of lends in to what we are talking about.

ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, talking about my foundation, and what this game can do worldwide and just as far as helping people. Holy cow, what this can do to your love handles. Oh, my goodness. That looks so good. That right there reminds me of Thanksgiving kind of Christmas, kind of a fall tailgate thing. What the heck. Sports, and it's delicious. This is great. What the PGA Tour wives have done in the last 25 years. Not saying it goes unnoticed, but they're starting to receive some of the credit they deserve. Most of the wives out here have kids and this is something that these women have put a lot of work into. Not just the book, but each and every week for the most part, and the communities that we saddle up in and play golf, they're helping others, whether it's blessings in a Backpack, and a number of other initiatives. So very cool. Amy Wilson, Mark Wilson's wife is the President of the PGA Tour Wives Association, and I know how much time she's put into it, and the whole board for that matter. It's tremendous. So everybody likes to eat, and you guys like to write and put things in the media, because that's what you are, so put this in.

MODERATOR: Yeah, and we were told that you were under no circumstances to say as good as it might be, it pales in comparison to your mother in laws.

ZACH JOHNSON: This is my mother in laws.

MODERATOR: The recipe. But it's not supposed to taste as good.

ZACH JOHNSON: There you go.

MODERATOR: You get the point.

ZACH JOHNSON: That's right.

MODERATOR: Anyhow, in the book, we'll give you more information. But the book can certainly be ordered a couple of different ways, but we'll encourage you all to come up and try it out. We've got cups and you might want to come sooner than later at the rate he's going. We do appreciate your time, and always love having you for a few minutes. Best of luck this week.

ZACH JOHNSON: You can buy this book in the merchandise tent. Thank you.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.