TRUE GRIT

ZACH JOHN­SON ON RE­BOUND­ING FROM GET­TING SMOKED BY A PRANK, A FOUR-PUTT AND THE GAM­BLING GAME VE­GAS WITH GUY YO­COM

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - News -

play a lot of h-o-r-s-e in the drive­way with my old­est son, Will, 11. Ob­vi­ously I’m bet­ter than he is, so I let him stay close. I’ll miss on pur­pose so I’m at H-O-R-S and he’s only at H-O. I can see on his face he thinks he’s got a chance. Then some­thing hap­pens to me. This com­pet­i­tive thing in­side me kicks in, and I blitz him. I just can’t let him win. Maybe it’s an Iowa thing, but we’re not “ev­ery­body gets a tro­phy” peo­ple. Will’s a strong kid. His day will come soon enough. ● ● ● – when i watch sports on tv

and I watch a lot – I’m al­ways drawn to the 20-point un­der­dog who keeps it close.At the NCAA bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment, when a small school hangs in there but doesn’t quite pull it out, that’s the team my eyes go to at the end of the game. The TV cam­eras al­ways fo­cus on the win­ners, but I’m look­ing at the los­ing side­line and think­ing, Nice job, guys. I don’t like los­ing, but there’s beauty in what comes out of it.As a golfer, ev­ery­thing I learned that led to my win­ning 12 PGA Tour events,

los­ing. in­clud­ing a cou­ple of ma­jors, came from ● ● ● i was 14 and play­ing in the club cham­pi­onship at Elm­crest Coun­try Club in Cedar Rapids.The club had some good play­ers, much bet­ter than me, but some­how I kept ad­vanc­ing. In the fi­nal, I lost to a guy named Jim Nowak. I was bummed, but I was think­ing I’d re­deem what had to be se­ri­ous pro-shop credit – new balls, a hat, maybe a new pair of shoes, all badly needed. Run­ner-up prize was a set of four bour­bon glasses. I got mad and started to com­plain to my dad about what a lousy prize it was. Boy, did he come down on me. Gave me a good talk­ing-to about how it wasn’t about the prizes but the op­por­tu­nity to com­pete and put my game to the test.About how for­tu­nate I was to have the ex­pe­ri­ence. He re­ally straight­ened me out. I never acted like a bad loser again. ● ● ● well, maybe once. By far our most painful Ry­der Cup loss was 2012 at Me­d­i­nah. Re­mem­ber on Sat­ur­day, when Ian Poul­ter birdied the last five holes, and he and Rory McIl­roy beat Ja­son Dufner and me, 1 up? When Ian’s putt for birdie on the last hole fell and he let out that scream, I hated that. I’ve let out a scream or two my­self, but the sight of him car­ry­ing on like that galled me to no end. I stewed about it for hours. Days. Make that years. ● ● ● in the months lead­ing up to that 2012 Ry­der Cup, some­one started mess­ing with my locker. I’d open it, and ev­ery­thing would be re­ar­ranged, or a moun­tain of wadded-up pa­per would come pour­ing out.An­other time it was filled com­pletely with bot­tles of Old Chub Scotch Ale, which was ran­dom and had no con­nec­tion with any­thing. It got a lit­tle ir­ri­tat­ing.Who would do stuff like that, over and over?

It con­tin­ued at the Ry­der Cup. Early in the week, I opened my locker and found it plas­tered with magazine pho­tos of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in their Speedos, with things writ­ten on them you can’t print.The mildest said some­thing like, Hi, Zach, what do you think of my rock-hard abs?Your friend, Michael. At the open­ing cer­e­mony on Thurs­day night, Michael Phelps ac­tu­ally was there. He was with Omega, one of the spon­sors, and was there to help get the crowd into it. I saw Matt Kuchar walk over to Michael and whis­per some­thing in his ear. Michael nods, then comes over to me and in­tro­duces him­self.Af­ter I say,“It’s great to meet you, Michael,” he leans in and whis­pers,“Zach, what do you think of my rock-hard abs?” Kuchar is dou­bled over, laugh­ing. It hits me: Kuchar’s locker has al­ways been right next to mine be­cause we’re J-K al­pha­bet­i­cally – he’d been the one mess­ing with my locker. I’m not sure how I’m go­ing to do it, but one day I’ll have my re­venge ● ● ● in the spring of 2002 I was still on the Hoot­ers Tour. I took ad­van­tage of a sched­ule break to try to Mon­dayqual­ify for the Bel­lSouth Clas­sic on the PGA Tour. Not only did I win the qual­i­fier, I made the cut.To top it off, on Sun­day I’m play­ing with Padraig Har­ring­ton and play­ing great. I came to the last hole, a par 5, know­ing that if I make birdie, I fin­ish in­side the top 10, I make a huge cheque and, even more im­por­tant, I au­to­mat­i­cally

KUCHAR IS DOU­BLED OVER, LAUGH­ING. IT HITS ME . . . . HE’D BEEN THE ONE MESS­ING WITH MY LOCKER.

qual­ify for the next tour­na­ment. I flush my se­cond shot, a 2-iron over wa­ter, to the back fringe. Clutch. I’m 50 feet from the hole. Walk­ing to the green, I’m elated. My dad and my fu­ture wife, Kim, are there, and it’s this great mo­ment. As my ea­gle putt gets near the hole, it looks like it’s go­ing to go in, which might get me in­side the top five. But it lips out and leaves me a four-footer for birdie. Just try­ing to get off the course, I power the four-footer five feet past. A lit­tle in shock now, I ham­mer the par putt six feet past. How I made the putt for bo­gey, I’ll never know. As I come off the green, every­one is treat­ing me like I’d done this great thing. Jimmy Roberts in­ter­views me, my dad and Kim are hug­ging and smil­ing. And I’m think­ing, Hey, the T-17 was nice. It was still a good cheque ($57 000). The next day, in­stead of driv­ing east to­wards Har­bour Town, a course that’s per­fect for me, I’m driv­ing my old car to Bro­ken Ar­row, Ok­la­homa, for the next Hoot­ers Tour event. Re­al­ity hits me. My in­ex­pe­ri­ence cost me about $50 000 and a chance to play in the next PGA Tour event. It was a mis­er­able drive. In­stead of turn­ing on the ra­dio, I pun­ished my­self by promis­ing never to make a mis­take like that again. I was so mad and fo­cused, I won at Bro­ken Ar­row. Two years later, in my rookie sea­son on the PGA Tour, darned if I don’t find my­self on the fi­nal green at the Bel­lSouth Clas­sic need­ing to make a two-footer to win by one. That was the long­est two feet of my life. I was trem­bling, no­body but me re­mem­ber­ing what had hap­pened there two years ear­lier. When that putt dropped, a lot of bad mojo went with it. ONE OF MY FIRST EVENTS that rookie year was Do­ral.The se­cond round, I duffed my se­cond shot with a 3-wood on the 12th hole, a par 5. I

IN MY 20 YEARS AS A PRO, I’VE SEEN A LOT OF GRIT TESTS UP CLOSE, AND THE GUY WHO PASSES IT LIKE NO OTHER IS JOR­DAN SPI­ETH.

was so mad, I swung again and took out a huge chunk of turf. Af­ter the round, Jeff Sluman, whom I’d played with, asked if I had a minute. “A cou­ple of things,” he said. “First, you have a nice game. You’re go­ing to be out here a long time.” I thanked him for that. Then he said, “What you did on 12 to­day did not need to hap­pen. It should not have hap­pened and will not hap­pen again – right?” It was a classy way to straighten a young guy out. I HAVE MY SE­CRET “GRIT” TEST. A player has birdied three of the first five, the mo­men­tum is there, but then he bo­geys the next two, and on the next hole faces a 10-footer for dou­ble bo­gey. That’s when the grit test starts. That’s the mo­ment I look at the player’s eyes and body lan­guage, see if there’s ce­ment and nails in there or some­thing softer. In my 20 years as a pro, I’ve seen a lot of grit tests up close, and the guy who passes it like no other is Jor­dan Spi­eth. Tiger Woods passed it, so did Corey Pavin, and I like to think I have, but Jor­dan is ac­tu­ally post-grit. It’s when he’s down a lit­tle, his game not re­ally click­ing, that he’s re­ally dan­ger­ous. He stalks that 10-footer for dou­ble like a lion. He ac­tu­ally thinks the mo­men­tum is all on his side. He gives off this king-of-the-jun­gle vibe that says

he’s go­ing to bury that putt and then birdie the next five. ● ● ● there were char­ac­ters when I was grow­ing up at Elm­crest. One guy showed up ev­ery week with a new set of clubs, the very lat­est. Shoes, balls and ac­ces­sories, too. Some­how he got his stuff be­fore our pro did, and all us kids couldn’t wait to see what he’d bring out next. He had a deep, grav­elly voice and called ev­ery­body “ma’am” and “sir.” He was a to­tal golf fa­natic. He and his bud­dies played all day long and gam­bled up a storm. It turned out he was Bob Par­sons, who to­day owns PXG. I play his clubs. Need­less to say, I al­ways have the lat­est, just like him. ● ● ● my favourite golf gam­bling game is Ve­gas. It’s a two-against-two game in which the hole scores of each side are com­bined and ex­pressed as dou­ble dig­its. If we’re part­ners and we score a 4 and a 5 on a par 4, that’s 45.The lower of the two scores is ex­pressed first. If we’re play­ing against two guys and they make two 5s on that hole, that’s 55, and they owe us 10 units.You can play for as much per unit as you want, but with Ve­gas there are a cou­ple of catches that can make it ex­pen­sive. For one thing, if you score a dou­ble bo­gey or worse, the high num­ber now goes first. If you make a 6 and I make a 4, it’s 64, and we’re go­ing to get slammed.And if both play­ers make birdie or bet­ter, it dou­bles the units. I al­ways liked Ve­gas be­cause I don’t tend to make high num­bers, and I choose part­ners who don’t make them. In my early years, I saw it as a nice way to com­pete and make a lit­tle ex­tra cash. It didn’t al­ways go as planned. ● ● ● prac­tice round Mis­souri Val­ley Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship. One of the North­ern Iowa guys, Matt Lowe, and I chal­lenge our re­spec­tive coaches toVe­gas.We both re­alise it won’t be easy pick­ings. My coach at Drake Uni­ver­sity was Jamie Ber­mel, a re­ally good player.The coach at North­ern Iowa hap­pens to be Jamie’s brother, John, who had played in sev­eral John Deere Clas­sics. But Matt and I feel we’re bet­ter.We’re play­ing for $1 a unit and come to the 17th hole, a par 3, be­hind enough to make it hurt.We need a birdie and par – a score of 23 – in the worst way. I hit a 7-iron over the green. Matt hits it safely on the green.The first Ber­mel to hit, Jamie, hits it stiff.Then John gets up and makes a hole-in-one.They make a score of 12, we score 34, and be­cause they made two birdies or bet­ter, it dou­bled.That hole alone cost us $44, and the to­tal was con­sid­er­ably more. I thought the coaches might give us a break on the debt, but no chance. Matt and I paid it all off – in in­stall­ments. I ac­tu­ally look back on this fondly.You can see why I don’t let Will beat me at H-O-R-S-E. ● ● ● when i played the Hoot­ers Tour, there was a group of us who be­came re­ally tight. One of the guys, Josh MY PLAY­ING STYLE – SHORT BUT PRE­CISE – ISN’T DEAD, BUT THE DAY MIGHT COME WHEN IT’S ON LIFE SUP­PORT. Broad­away, plays cross-handed and was good enough to get to what’s now the Web.com Tour. Josh can also sing and play the gui­tar very well and vol­un­teered to do a song at my wed­ding.With the lights turned down low, Josh broke into “Ev­ery Rose Has Its Thorn,” a real emo­tional bal­lad by the ’80s hair band Poi­son. Kim and I are re­ally into it, hold­ing hands and look­ing into each other’s eyes. But when Josh gets to the cho­rus, he phrases the ti­tle as “Ev­ery Round Takes Too Long,” an ob­vi­ous poke at my rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing slow. Ev­ery­body died laugh­ing.Thanks for the touchy-feely mo­ment, Josh. ● ● ● a while back I was play­ing in a pro-am at Hilton Head. On the par-4 13th hole, two older guys each hit hy­brids straight down the mid­dle, but when we get to the fair­way, we can’t find the balls.We check with the vol­un­teers, and they have no clue. There was no rough or bushes and no an­i­mals around who could have run off with them. At the last mo­ment, I check the tiny hole in the mid­dle of the fair­way where the 150-yard stake is placed for ev­ery­day play.The hole is much smaller than the cup on a putting green. In the hole were the two miss­ing balls, one stacked neatly atop the other. It’s eas­ily the weird­est thing I’ve ever seen on a golf course. ● ● ● my win at the 2007 masters only hap­pened be­cause of an in­ci­dent at the Ry­der Cup seven months ear­lier. My first match at the K Club in Ire­land was the four­somes on Fri­day af­ter­noon. Chad Camp­bell was my part­ner, and we were 2 down against Padraig Har­ring­ton and Paul McGin­ley play­ing the par-5 16th hole. Chad hit a good drive that left me 250 yards to the hole and 235 to clear wa­ter. My lie is good, but the wind is up, and even with a 3-wood, it’s at the out­side of my dis­tance limit.As

we’re dis­cussing what to do, up drives our cap­tain,Tom Lehman.“What’s the prob­lem?” he says. I say,“Well, I can get there, but I have to hit it per­fect.”Tom asks, in an oblig­a­tory way,“What’s the score­board say?” I say, “We’re 2 down.”Tom says,“Is there even a ques­tion?” I went for it, of course, hit it to 15 feet, we won that hole and wound up halv­ing the match.That 3-wood shot proved to me that I could ex­e­cute un­der duress. Ever since, I’ve craved hav­ing the ball in my hands at the end. It’s that as­sur­ance that won me the Masters. ● ● ● that 2007 masters I didn’t go for a sin­gle par 5 in two. I re­lied on my wedges and was for­tu­nate to play those holes in 11 un­der.There hasn’t been a player since who’s won with that strat­egy. I’m not brag­ging up my wedge game, only point­ing out that fewer guys are be­ing forced into that play­ing style. Even the small­est of the young guys are hit­ting it a mile. I out­weigh Justin Thomas by at least 15 pounds, and he blows it 25 yards past me with the driver. My play­ing style – short but pre­cise – isn’t dead, but the day might come when it’s on life sup­port. ● ● ● af­ter i holed my fi­nal putt to win that Masters by two, (cad­die) Da­mon Green didn’t take just the pin flag for a sou­venir, he took the whole flag­stick. He also kept the white cad­die uni­form. He drove out the gate and past the at­ten­dants with the flag­stick stick­ing out the win­dows. Don’t for­get, he had to get it on the air­plane, too. But he got them home and mounted the uni­form on a man­nequin his ex­act size, com­plete with his Masters hat.The flag­stick is by his side. Ev­ery time I see it, I think, That’s got to be worth a lot on eBay. ● ● ● iowa weather – cold, windy and nasty – usu­ally works in my favour. Sat­ur­day at the 2007 Masters was the worst, tem­per­a­ture about 50 (10C), but the wind made it feel like 40 (4.4C). I shot 76 and didn’t lose ground on the leader board.When I won at St An­drews in 2015, there was a rain de­lay on Fri­day, and on Sat­ur­day the wind was blow­ing balls around on the green so badly they sus­pended play.When I was a kid, we some­times played in snow. I learned to han­dle cold – if I keep my head and lower body cov­ered, the parts in be­tween feel warm. By the time the weather at St An­drews got back to nor­mal, I’d hung in there and man­aged to win the play­off. ● ● ● be­cause tiger woods’ record in the Ry­der Cup doesn’t align with his in­di­vid­ual record, there’s a sus­pi­cion he hasn’t been very in­vested. I can’t tell you how wrong that is. In ev­ery Ry­der Cup I’ve been a part of,Tiger as a player knows he’s play­ing 90 holes and is first in bed ev­ery night. In 2016, when he was a vice-cap­tain, we had nu­mer­ous twohour phone con­ver­sa­tions months in ad­vance, talk­ing about pos­si­ble weather con­di­tions, po­ten­tial player com­bi­na­tions, even things like who the cap­tains should walk with. I’m not the only guy he did this with. Zero ego. He’s had an amaz­ingly long run and has been on board at the be­gin­ning, mid­dle and end. ● ● ● tiger’s world chal­lenge tour­na­ment at Sher­wood, 2013. He and I are tied play­ing the last hole, a par 4.Walk­ing to­wards our drives, I tell Da­mon,“This is what it’s all about. We’re play­ing T-Dub, we’re tied, and we’re gonna get this done.”Tiger hits first and lands his ap­proach into a green­side bunker.What do I do? Hit an 8-iron into the wa­ter. A shot so bad, I’m as em­bar­rassed as I am an­gry. Da­mon says,“I guess there’s only one thing left to do.” I drop into the cir­cle of the drop zone and, from 58 yards out, hole my next one for par.The crowd went in­sane, but the re­ally awe­some thing was, when I looked over at Tiger, he didn’t have that cus­tom­ary grim and de­ter­mined look on his face. His head was down, but I could see him smil­ing. Af­ter I beat him on the first play­off hole, he still had that smile. He knows what a crazy game golf is. ● ● ● my statis­ti­cian, Peter San­ders, says that for ev­ery putt I miss from eight feet and in, I need to hole a 15-footer to com­pen­sate. If Peter told you that, how would you use that in­for­ma­tion? Me, I’m go­ing to work ex­tra hard at im­prov­ing from 15 feet while main­tain­ing where I am from in­side eight feet.That’s what Jor­dan Spi­eth does – makes an in­or­di­nate num­ber from out­side 15 feet. He’s not a bad player to copy. ● ● ● a six-foot putt for ev­ery­thing: Tiger, Jack or me? That’s easy: me. One, I like hav­ing con­trol over the out­come.Two, what­ever the out­come is, I can ac­cept it.Three, I’m go­ing to make that putt.

MY WIN AT THE MASTERS ONLY HAP­PENED BE­CAUSE OF AN IN­CI­DENT AT THE RY­DER CUP SEVEN MONTHS EAR­LIER.

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