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Zach Johnson Discusses First Tournament of the Year
Editor's Note: Zach Johnson will be one of the 33 players kicking off the 2009 PGA Tour season January 8-11 at the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Hawaii. Only players who won the previous year are eligible for the $5.6 million event, with $1.12 million going to the winner. It will be held once again on the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort in Maui.
Other players entered include 2008 Masters' winner Trevor Immelman, Ernie Els, Adam Scott, reigning FedEx Cup champion Vijay Singh and defending champion Daniel Chopra. Among those who won't be making the transpacific trek are Tiger Woods, who's still recovering from knee surgery; 2008 two-time major winner Padraig Harrington; and Phil Mickelson. Each of these players has won the Mercedes-Benz twice.
Last January, Chopra earned a return trip to Hawaii with a birdie on the fourth playoff hole to beat Steve Stricker. Chopra had squandered a three-shot lead over the final five holes of regulation, but managed to come through when it counted the most.
The Golf Channel will air nearly 18 hours of the tournament this week, then nearly 18 more next week when K.J. Choi defends his title at the Sony Open in Hawaii, the PGA Tour's first full-field event of 2009.
During his interview session Monday, Johnson discussed the third season of the FedEx Cup as well the European Tour's Race to Dubai, which is drawing a lot of interest from American pros.
Q. So what's new? Do you have anything new on endorsements this year?
ZACH JOHNSON: No, I don't think so. Fortunately the Masters came in a contract period. And fortunately, everybody stuck with me, and it really was a very smooth process. I didn't do anything. The relationships that we had established were business certainly from the beginning, but it turned into a family relationship. These are the guys that we text message and talk all the time. So in that regard, starting with Titleist, Transamerica, and McGladrey - McGladrey changed. Used to be RSM, and now it's McGladrey. Titleist through and through, and I see more putters still. I've updated the models and that sort of thing. I'm trying some new irons this week, but they are not new to the Tour. I just haven't had the time to practice with them. So I'm going to try those. Maybe a new ball, but we'll see.
Q. Have you been tinkering with the ball at all?
ZACH JOHNSON: I haven't had the opportunity. I had a pretty congested fall, so the last two weeks, holidays, family, that sort of thing, and we moved, so I really have not had that much time to practice with the new ball.
Q. Where did you move?
ZACH JOHNSON: I moved from Orlando to St. Simons, Sea Island.
Q. What precipitated that?
ZACH JOHNSON: The move was a number of factors. My coaches came to me -- not came to me, but in our discussions, I wanted to get better practice facilities, that was one thing. Certainly Orlando offers that. We had the friends established and we wanted the small-town feel and Jonathan Byrd is there and Davis Love, and other players. The key factor was moving closer to my in-laws, and hopefully my family gets bigger. So that was the deciding factor, I would say. Schools were great; church was fantastic; golf was awesome. That was really what pushed the envelope for us. Atlanta had a lot to offer. I grew up in Iowa. Just wanted more -- it's got a lot of great amenities, if you want them. It's got the small-town feel. You know, it's good. A lot of Gator country. Golf is great, great players, good friends. I live two blocks from Jonathan. Snedeker has a place there and occasionally he comes down. You have a lot of guys, like Boo comes in, Lucas comes down, Charles Howell works with some of the coaches there at the Sea Island Company. Morris Pickens lives there, my coach, that was one of the deciding factors, too.
Q. You take a little financial hit, though.
ZACH JOHNSON: A little bit. But I think the other factors outweigh that, as far as I'm concerned. Fortunately, my wife and I put ourselves in a position where we can pretty much live where we want to live. My thing is I'm comfortable with the decision, and it was a hard decision for me to make. If it's not, we'll know and we'll go elsewhere. But I'm content with the decision. Plus, I've paid enough Georgia taxes for the last five years, it's all right. They can cut me a break, somehow.
Q. Obviously, your sponsors, do you find that they are looking at things differently because of the way things are?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, fortunately these companies have kind of positioned themselves so they are not getting hit, to my knowledge, as a lot of other companies are. McGladrey, tax, accounting, doing fantastic, even some potentially new developments on their golf platform, as well. All in all, I haven't seen much. You know, granted, I haven't really discussed much with them, but, you know, if they wanted to come to me and discuss it, we could do that. To my knowledge, they have been compared to other major companies, they are doing all right.
Q. Did you see the Commissioner's video, asking that you try to add one or two events?
ZACH JOHNSON: Oh, yes, I did see it.
Q. What did you think of his recommendation that you add a couple?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I mean, certainly -- you know, granted I want to play the tournaments that suit me and the golf courses that suit my game, certainly, the course, conditions that favor my game. But given that, this is my sixth year, I guess, now, whatever it is, going on my sixth year, there's still courses that I haven't played that I would like to hit. I didn't play San Antonio until this past year, and, obviously, that turned out all right. My point is, for me, personally, I plan my off-weeks just as much as I do my on-weeks. So if I need an off-week where I usually play, and the next week I've never played, I'll play. I played Memphis once and loved it. Had a good finish, but I haven't been able to get back since. It's just a matter of the way the schedule configures.
I might take that, was a representative of the PGA Tour, it's really important for the Tour, and I think it's a responsibility. Now, you know, given that, I've also got to look at my best interests. It's going to be difficult for a lot of guys to do. I encourage it, certainly, like the Tour is, because as we just talked about, times are not great, and we can make these tournaments bigger and better and get bigger fields. And certainly add some weight to these events and these fields. I think that's what we should do. Fortunately, the Tour has positioned itself to kind of sustain itself through these times, but we are not any different. We are a pretty big entity, too, so we are going to get hit a little bit, too. But with Tiger coming back, our product is going to be all right.
Q. So you haven't joined the Race to Dubai, I take it?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, somebody said I signed up for it, but because I won the Masters, that gets me a membership. And for me to renew, it was like 60 bucks for something like that. So, yeah, "Zach is in the Race to Dubai." I read that. It's one of those things, I don't know if my schedule is going to hold through the middle of the year, and it's based on how I play. My priority is FedEx Cup, without question. If I have a sour beginning like I did this past year, who knows what will happen.
Q. But you signed up for membership just because it was chump change?
ZACH JOHNSON: Exactly. And nothing against the European Tour, but honestly, what it is, the way we discussed it with my manager, it's easier for me to get in an event that I'm already a member; otherwise, I have to go through some formal ties that I just don't want to have to deal with. That could be a sponsor exemption, appearance fee exemption, or sponsor exemption plus an appearance fee exemption.
Q. A couple people have tried to take up joint membership; how does that mesh with Tim asking everyone to add a couple more to their schedule to try to help?
ZACH JOHNSON: We discussed that both in the PAC and on the board. It really isn't anything significant in the grand scheme of things for the PGA Tour. A lot of the guys, there's four majors, three World Golf Championships, so that's seven events, and a couple of the guys get to ten, because they play Scotland the week before or the week after the British, or whatever that one is. I think it's Germany or something. So it's a matter of adding one or two events, which is very insignificant. And if anything, it helps the game of golf and helps globalize it even more, which is exactly what we want to do.
Q. What is the perception, throwing Anthony Kim out as an example, and he chose to play Abu Dhabi or Qatar, and the Bob Hope people are screaming, "He could be here."
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I don't know. I can't speak necessarily on behalf of the Bob Hope people, but that's certainly Anthony's prerogative. I think Anthony is a kid right there. He's a young kid, up-and-coming -- I shouldn't say up-and-coming; he's here. He's established himself. But he's one of those kids that could really take golf to another level. That's not a burden, and it's a responsibility. And for what you are saying, if he does do that -- I don't have any idea, but if he does do that, if anything that's transcending the game of golf to an extent, and I think that's fantastic. He's one example of a potential to do that. If it's a matter of taking one week off over here and doing it overseas, I think the game of golf is in a better position. Now, given that, he still represents the PGA Tour and I think he does all right with that. Camilo is another guy; those are probably two of the better examples right now. Tiger, everybody is making a big stink out of he only plays 15 events over here and he plays internationally, and look what he does for the game of golf. I think the potential for what The European Tour and what we are doing here with the FedEx Cup and those two things combined, I think it's great for the game. And I don't -- to my knowledge, I don't see much of a clash.
Q. With the way the economy is, were you even surprised purses were bumped this year?
ZACH JOHNSON: No, because I've seen where the numbers are coming from and how the Tour is doing what they are doing. I was chairman of the PAC last year so it will be my first year on the board. So just understanding how thorough and how in-depth and the breadth to which they handle their business, it doesn't surprise me. What Tim and his staff does, the international board of directors that we have, just the knowledge and the overall reign of the Tour, it doesn't surprise me. They position themselves for times like this.
Q. But if they were not contractually obligated to do that --
ZACH JOHNSON: Who?
Q. The tournaments themselves -- do you think they still would have raised the purses?
ZACH JOHNSON: If the sponsors weren't obligated?
Q. To raise the purses, do you think they would have raised the purses this year?
ZACH JOHNSON: I don't have any idea. That's a good question. I have absolutely no idea. I just know we have got great sponsors. I can tell you, from what I know, I don't know specifics, but I know that a lot of these sponsors are very, very, very happy, and most of the sponsors are very, very, very happy with how our brand portrays their company. As a result, it's been a nice, mutual walk.
Q. When you get together with your group to outline the year, how was the discussion different this year than it was at the end of 2007?
ZACH JOHNSON: 2007, that's a great question, actually. 2007, was a lot of positives. I played pretty much -- well, the bulk of the year, so 2008, going into 2008, at the end of 2007, where it was just keep doing what we are doing, that sort of thing. You know, we had objectives. We had goals. But I just kind of tried to stay in the same form rather than -- I think I kind of relied too much on the past, even though it was only months ago or whatever it was, and especially the beginning of 2008. I had six weeks off after New York/New Jersey, because I couldn't play the rest of the FedEx Cup, and I had some obligations, weddings and that sort of thing. So I had six weeks off to re-tool and revamp and re-polish, and that's when I sat down and said, What are we going to do next year. So the fundamental changes, mental changes, let's do that now and play four out of the last five, which is exactly what I did.
So the end of 2008, I met with my coaches, like a summit type of thing, and it was good. It was heated at times, opinions flying around the room, but it was exactly what I wanted. It was very healthy, and it was very candid. The beauty of that, all of my guys, all of Team Johnson, if you will, get along great. They are all passionate about it. They are all opinionated, passionate, and I would say, you know, just caring. So we have reassessed. We try to have about two to four goals, three goals throughout the year. I don't really -- I don't stick to the numbers. They do it for me. But those kind of stay the same. The goals stay the same but the objectives of how to get to those goals change a little bit. I'm encouraged. I thought the end of last year, my game was really, really good.
Q. What are some of the goals?
ZACH JOHNSON: For me, I'm not going to be able to go through the par 5s and get there in two for every week, so for me, par-5 percentage, birdie conversion is a big thing for me every year. In order for me to do that, my wedge game has to be good. And putting is one of the goals. So scrambling, par-5s and putting. That's the best way I can explain it. My driving stats have not changed much. I'm hitting a lot of fairways. If anything I've lost some yards, but I'm starting to get the yards back because of some fundamental changes. My greens in reg have gone up since my rookie year tremendously. My scrambling was great in 2007, but suffered last year. My putting was good in 2004, 2005, but diminished this past year. Trying to get back to where my putting, which is starting to show.
Q. Twice when you've been asked about this meet-and-discussion, you've smiled and laughed a little bit before you gave your answer. Curious, what makes you laugh?
ZACH JOHNSON: Oh, just the guys.
Q. Something hit.
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, yeah. I had my swing coach, putting coach, mental coach, and, obviously, my caddie, Damon. They are all totally different personalities, but we are all on the same path. It's awesome. Some of those guys are players, also. So having that is obviously a benefit, but also leads to some other things, some opinions, some heavy opinions. It's just a matter of figuring out where these guys are coming from and how it suits me and where I can implement it in my game. It's fun. There are still jokes. We text message the same jokes all the time. Mike Bender, my coach, he is adamant about one thing and there's two or three of us who say, that makes absolutely no sense. It's just fun. Mike played out here for three or four years and knows the game, and is obviously the best coach I've ever been around. I'm obviously biased about that.
And then having Morris Pickens my mental coach, what he says and how he implements the whole brain side of it, it's an interesting dynamic. It was fun. We did it this year at Sea Island for the first time since we moved. Previous years we did it at Sawgrass. It's two or three days where we just go out and putt and chip and butt heads and eat a lot.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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