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Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Life -

BUILD­ING IM­PROVE­MENT o be ul­tra-com­pet­i­tive, John­son has mas­tered the art of steady im­prove­ment.“The key is al­ways look­ing for the pos­i­tives in ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence,” he says.“When you play bad, the pos­i­tive is that you know what you need to work on.”

The frame­work of how to work on it was supplied by Ben­der, whose guid­ance pro­vided the most im­por­tant turn­ing point in John­son’s ca­reer, and who re­mains his coach.To cre­ate a mo­tion that would bet­ter com­ple­ment John­son’s strong grip, Ben­der

at­tened John­son’s swing plane and taught him to square the club more with body ro­ta­tion, al­most elim­i­nat­ing hand ro­ta­tion. His swing is no­table for the way John­son “holds o ” the club turn­ing over through the hit­ting area and the pro­nounced ex­ten­sion of the shaft to­wards the tar­get line. “Zach has the long­est left arm through the ball I’ve ever seen,” says in­struc­tor Jim McLean. “Longer than Ho­gan’s.”

Adds prom­i­nent tour guru Peter Cowen:“He’s prob­a­bly got more con­stants than any­body, and that’s what the game’s all about.The more con­stants you have, the more con­sis­tency you have.”

“A lot of tour­na­ment golf is con­trol­ling fear,” says John­son’s cad­die since 2004, Da­mon Green, who has won more than 70 mini-tour events as a player.“But Zach is just one of those guys who isn’t scared. You can’t say that about a lot of play­ers.When he bo­geyed 17 in the last round (at St An­drews) af­ter he missed that 3-wood from the fair­way so bad, I knew he wasn’t rat­tled.We got up on 18 tee, and I said,‘Let’s just do what we do.’And he did.”

As long­time tour cad­die Steve Wil­liams told Golf Di­gest last year,“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.”

Adds Green:“We were in the locker room be­fore the last round, and Zach was look­ing at the scores, and he said,‘Man, there’s a lot of guys who could win this.’And I said,‘No, there’s not, Zach. Most of those guys don’t have the stom­ach to win this.You do. At St An­drews, you got to have guts.’ ”

Since the ini­tial changes, Ben­der and John­son’s work has been mostly re ne­ment. “We work on weak­nesses,” Ben­der says,“but make sure his strengths stay strong.”

Those strengths are ob­vi­ous. John­son is one of the best at get­ting his driver in play, peren­ni­ally in the top 10 on the PGA Tour in driv­ing ac­cu­racy. It’s im­per­a­tive to his suc­cess, be­cause his mea­sured av­er­age club­head speed of 107.62 miles per hour (173.2kph) in 2015 is the sec­ond-slow­est of any reg­u­lar PGA Tour player among the top-100 play­ers in the world. (His av­er­age driv­ing dis­tance of 282 yards last year ranked 160th on tour.) To carry a ball 270 yards, John­son says he has to make per­fect con­tact. them to achieve some iconic mo­ments.The rst was win­ning the Mas­ters with­out ever go­ing for a par 5 in two, yet mak­ing birdies on 11 of those 16 holes over four rounds.The sec­ond was on the 72nd hole of the 2013 World Chal­lenge at Sher­wood CC, where he de­feated Woods, the tour­na­ment host.To get into a playo , John­son – af­ter badly ar­ing an 8-iron ap­proach into a wa­ter haz­ard – holed a per­fectly struck 60-de­gree wedge from 58 yards that drew a mem­o­rably pained smile from Woods. “If I hit a bad shot, it’s like my fo­cus goes up,” John­son says. “It’s al­most like a trig­ger.”

You could make the case that he won at St An­drews with his wedges, which he used for ap­proaches on the Old Course’s seven par 4s un­der 400 yards and other holes as well, birdieing the 18th in ev­ery round.

“It set­tled me down to re­mem­ber how many wedges I would have on that course,” he says.“That’s when I know I can do some work.” In­deed, the same prin­ci­ples of lim­ited

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