A 43 KILOGRAM FRESHMAN ike his father, an avid athlete, Johnson’s physical maturity began later than most of his peers, and he weighed only 43 kilograms as a freshman at Regis High School.“I had good skills, but my lack of size and speed kept me a little behind the best kids in the other sports,” Johnson says.“Golf o ered a more level eld. I would have rather played other sports, but golf picked me.”
Once chosen, Johnson committed to the path as if it were pre-ordained. Says his mother, Julie, who holds a master’s in education from the University of Iowa:“Zach is an oldest child who is the product of two oldest children. I don’t think he had a choice but to excel at something. He really ts that pro le.” It helped that the “clutch gene” was also prevalent in the Johnson household.“Having to step up to the plate and perform in sports, our whole family loves that sort of stu ,” says his sister Maria Drees.“We love watching others have the chance, but we really love to get the chance ourselves. It came from our dad, who always made it all right if we failed.We just liked that challenge and that feeling of doing something under pressure, especially Zach.”
The appeal has only grown. “I can’t wrap my brain around not wanting to be in those situations – having to execute under command,” he says. “I enjoy duress- lled situations. I enjoy nervous-type situations. I enjoy crunch-time situations.”
Certainly his early pro career was one. Johnson was never the best golfer on his high school team. He never excelled on the amateur circuit and didn’t come close to making a Walker Cup team. So after graduating with a BA in business management and marketing in 1998, his decision to turn pro the next year naturally worried his mother, among others. But Johnson got some backing from a local group of businessmen.When he began to work with the Orlando-based Bender in late 1999, Johnson found his footing.
In 2001, he won the last three Hooters Tour events to brie y become known as Back-toBack-to-Back Zach.After winning twice on the Nationwide Tour in 2003, he earned his PGA Tour card and quickly won the BellSouth Classic.
Veterans could tell the scrawny short hitter had the right stu .At the 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland, Johnson, partnered with ScottVerplank in a fourball match against Henrik Stenson and Padraig Harrington. On a cold, wet, blustery day, as the rest of the US team struggled, Johnson made seven birdies in a 2/1 victory.
“Our team that year didn’t have a whole lot of con dence,” says Ver plank, “but Zach and I did. He’s a pretty good example of your mind being stronger than your body. That was the best Zach had ever played in his life to that point. He just believed he was going to do great things, with nobody else understanding why he would think that.
“I guess we’re kindred spirits,”Verplank says.“When we see each other, we give this goofy little st pump to the heart that we did in Ireland. But we look each other in the eye when we do it, and it’s like, Yeah, that’s who we are.”
But as much inner re as Johnson exhibits on the course, he still likes other sports better. International soccer matches dominate his big screen at home in Sea Island, Georgia, especially those with his favourite player, Lionel Messi. (“The ball on his foot, I swear there’s glue on it,” Johnson says.) As for golf,“I don’t know if I love the game – more like I really like it,” he says.“But I love competing, and golf is my outlet to do so.” ▶ Johnson birdied the 18th hole all four days at St. Andrews, including a 25-foot birdie putt that got him into the playoff.