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Zach Johnson in Memphis for St. Jude Classic as Preparation for U.S. Open


After taking last week's Memorial Tournament off, Zach Johnson is back in action for the FedEx St. Jude Classic. The $5.6 million PGA Tour event starts Thursday at TPC Southwind in Memphis. Harrison Frazar is the defending champion.

Two weeks ago in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial the 36-year-old Iowa native logged his eighth career win, edging Jason Dufner by a shot even though Johnson had to take a two-stroke penalty for not placing his ball back to its original spot on the 18th hole in the final round. Instead of a 2-under 70, Johnson posted a 72, which was still good enough to sneak by Dufner.

Johnson is in Memphis as a tune-up for the U.S. Open, which gets underway next week at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He's not sure why some players bypass the tournament the week prior to the national championship. "It just seems like a lot of guys skip this event. I don't know why they skip it. I say this sincerely," he said. "I don't know how you'd rank them, but I think this is one of the most underrated tournaments on the PGA Tour.

"Once you experience it, I think it's pretty obvious. One, the golf course is really, really good. It's really hard. You shoot under par here essentially any day, regardless of conditions, you're playing pretty good golf. The greens are tough. Once they went to the Bermuda grass, it's just been tough."

Johnson added, "I think Memphis, this golf course, you have got to control your trajectory, you have got to putt it well. Obviously your short game is imperative if you want to score. It requires everything. It's firm, fast usually with firm greens, and as a result you've got to shape shots and hit quality shots. Going into a U.S. Open where you have to have all aspects of your game on, I think this tournament certainly gets you in that sort of competitive state."

On Wednesday, the 2007 Masters champion met with reporters and discussed his reasoning for playing this week and how he's preparing for the U.S. Open. He also touched on the mental gaffe at Colonial. Here's what Johnson had to tell the media during a Q&A following his practice round.

MODERATOR: Zach Johnson, thanks for joining us for a few minutes prior to the start of the 2012 St. Jude Classic. We appreciate your time as always. Been a busy couple of weeks for you coming off the big win in Fort Worth at the Crowne Plaza Invitational two weeks ago. You're making your fourth start, I believe, here, at the FedEx Cup St. Jude Classic this week with a T5 in your first start in 2006.

ZACH JOHNSON: I think that's about right.

MODERATOR: With that we'll get some comments on how it feels to be back here in Memphis.

MODERATOR: Yeah, you know, I get the question a lot why are you playing Memphis, and usually the premise behind that question is, one, it's in front of the U.S. Open, and two, it just seems like a lot of guys skip this event. I don't know why they skip it. I say this sincerely. I don't know how you'd rank them, but I think this is one of the most underrated tournaments on the PGA Tour. Once you experience it, I think it's pretty obvious. One, the golf course is really, really good. It's really hard. You shoot under par here essentially any day, regardless of conditions, you're playing pretty good golf. The greens are tough. Once they went to the Bermuda grass, it's just been tough.

I love the test, especially there's some good holes on the back nine that require commitment and quality executed shots. So I love what the golf course provides and requires. Outside of that, I think FedEx and certainly the cause behind it and St. Jude Hospital, I don't even know where you'd start and where you'd end there. FedEx has been a massive partner with the PGA Tour and our efforts both from a product standpoint and from a charity standpoint. They grasp it; they get what we're trying to do. And then obviously St. Jude, talk about helping kids, I don't know if there's an organization that does that more open armed than the St. Jude's Hospital. It just makes it that much more worthy, plus I like barbecue. So it's not hard to be here at all.

Q. In light of that, as far as playing before the U.S. Open. Can you just talk about why you do that?

ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I do like to see the venue of the U.S. Open, PGA, what have you, before the week. I mean, whether it's a month before - I've done that in the past. For whatever reason, I couldn't get to Olympic, but that's beside the point. I like to play. I like to be in the competitive mode going into a major. I feel like I know how to prepare for Augusta. I don't think I need to explain that. But with the U.S. Open and the PGA - and the week before the PGA is Akron, the Bridgestone. You're going to play. I mean, you're just going to play. It's a World Golf Championship. If it's a notch below a major, it's a small notch, and I love everything that Akron and the Firestone club requires.

I play John Deere before the U.S. Open because it's near my hometown. I'm on the board of the tournament, and I love that tournament. Once again, a very, very underrated golf course and underrated tournament. So you know, I think Memphis, this golf course, you have got to control your trajectory, you have got to putt it well. Obviously your short game is imperative if you want to score. It requires everything. It's firm, fast usually with firm greens, and as a result you've got to shape shots and hit quality shots. Going into a U.S. Open where you have to have all aspects of your game on, I don't think this - this tournament certainly gets you in that sort of competitive state.

Q. How do you feel about your own game right now considering you won the other day and moving in here and liking the golf course and liking the setup?

ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I love this golf course as I mentioned. I love everything about it. The greens are good, they're small, they're fast. My game feels good. I took a week off this past week and feel somewhat refreshed. I've got a three week stint coming up here, but I feel good about it. Even if I wouldn't have won The Colonial, I still would feel really good about what I'm doing, especially with my short game and my ball striking is coming along very nicely. If I can just get into a good rhythm for the week, I think good things can happen.

Q. (Inaudible.)

ZACH JOHNSON: I mean, if you're looking at finishes, yeah, I think it probably is as good as I can remember. I don't know. You'd have to go back and look. But I felt as good about my game now as in previous years, in certainly streaks, stints, if you will, but it's starting to show up in numbers, meaning it's starting to show up with my scores and certainly with my finishes. You know, I don't - it's one of those things I know if I get too complacent or too content with what I'm doing, then it can go the other direction. Or if I get overly confident it can go the other direction. I'm just sticking to the process, sticking to the week. It's just another round, just another hole sort of thing, and I think that's kind of the mental approach I'm trying to implement.

Q. We couldn't help hear part of that interview a while ago. I'm sure that you're getting that question, but when you said first time I've got it today, how often are you now getting that question, and are you pretty much just kind of laughing it off a little bit, or how are you dealing with it?

ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I don't think I've dealt with it any which way. I mean, it is what it is. It was just a brain cramp, and I got a two shot penalty, and I was up by three shots, so fortunately I won. That's the way I've looked at it all along. It won't happen again, because I know better now, but I got caught up in the emotion that day. It's really nothing more than that. I haven't got any backlash fortunately. I mean, jokes here and there, but I can take those; they're warranted. I've made fun of myself. It's nothing more than that. I am just fortunate that it didn't end up costing me.

Q. Something like that, do you wake up at night thinking about it at all?

ZACH JOHNSON: Not at all.

Q. (Inaudible.)

ZACH JOHNSON: I have no idea who's playing. I don't look at those things. I'm sorry, I don't know. I know I saw Dustin on the putting green, so it looks like he's healthy. I saw David Toms. I think he's won here at least once, maybe twice. Honestly I don't know who's playing. I'm sorry.

MODERATOR: Real quick just to change gears, I mentioned on the way in Jack Fleck, fellow Iowan, comment on him, and next week back at Olympic.

ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, Jack Fleck, club pro from eastern Iowa, one of the river towns, won the U.S. Open at Olympic over Ben Hogan. I believe it was in a playoff if I'm not mistaken. You know, he is the only other Iowan to win a major, so obviously our state holds him in very high regard, and rightfully so. He was kind of the local guy, club pro guy that - a lot of club pros played back then. I realize that. But took down Mr. Ben Hogan. I mean, in the U.S. Open. Awesome story.

It's kind of like if we would have had the media coverage then that we do now, I think it would be an even bigger story. Pretty awesome. I've gotten the pleasure of meeting him two or three times that I can remember, three or four times maybe, and I know he was at the '08 U.S. Open which was in San Diego, and then he's at Augusta every other year, maybe even every year, the last few years, they invite major champions back to play in the par 3, and he's played and participated. I intend on trying to play with him at some point, but we'll see how that works. A true gentleman. He's 90, I think. Is that about right?

MODERATOR: He's about that, yeah.

ZACH JOHNSON: Still kicking, still going at it, still very witty, still very sharp. I know there's a lot of proud Iowans that look up to Jack Fleck, me being one of them.

Q. (Inaudible.)

ZACH JOHNSON: Oh, back in '06 I have no idea. I mean, it's six years ago. I haven't the faintest idea. Maybe I just wanted to check it out. At that point that was my third year on Tour, so I was trying to - '04 and '05 I kind of mixed it up trying to see which golf courses suited me or which ones I liked. I don't recall what it was, but I just hadn't played here yet and wanted to check it out. I heard it was decent for my game, meaning fairways are a priority and short game, that sort of thing. I can't recall. But I'm glad I did because I enjoy it. It's hard.

MODERATOR: Zach, as always, we appreciate your time. Good luck this week.

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