Sea Island, Georgia
THE MODERATOR: We’d like to welcome Team RSM member Zach Johnson into the interview room making his sixth start here at the RSM Classic and his first start of the season in what is his 13th season on the PGA TOUR.
Welcome back here. Just talk a little bit about your expectations for the week.
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, thank you. I expect to win. No, I don’t have any expectations other than I thoroughly enjoy being at home. I thoroughly enjoy working at home and competing at home on two golf courses that I hold in high regard.
Obviously being a part of the RSM family makes it even that much more special.
It’s just really cool when I can play the golf this week, even Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, with friendly faces that I’ve known now for years. Whether it’s Joe Adams or Bill Gorman or any of those guys. The list goes on and on.
It’s a special week. It’s awesome. Sea Island, Davis and his group, and certainly RSM, pretty awesome tandem they’ve got going on.
Fun just to be a part of it. Excited to sleep in my own bed.
THE MODERATOR: And you had a few weeks off.
ZACH JOHNSON: Five weeks.
THE MODERATOR: Keeping up with Hawkeye football. You okay with the rankings that came out?
ZACH JOHNSON: 10-0. 10-0.
THE MODERATOR: All right. With that, we’ll open it up to questions.
ZACH JOHNSON: What are you laughing at there? Not you, behind you. Badger boy.
Excuse me? Would you like to talk about that? We can discuss that. This is not about that, but we can get into it.
Q. How is it going?
ZACH JOHNSON: High, Gary.
Q. Wondering now that it’s been a few months since the Open championship, the aftermath of that, how has it affected you personally, professionally? Is it different than the first few months after winning the Masters, or did the Masters kind of prepare you for what was going to come?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, no, good question. There are a lot of parallels as to what has surfaced, come to my plate, what’s come to our attention. Definitely significantly more prepared for it, and I would say comfortable with the aftermath.
Both were awesome. Really what comes is a lot of requests and opportunities. Because of that, really what comes with it is a lot of nos, unfortunately, because you can’t do everything. Even though they’re all essentially worthy of my time and energy and that kind of thing.
All positive things really. I mean, I’m certainly more prepared for the business side of things, and I would even say the attention side of things.
But beauty of this is that it really was kind of the year of Jordan Spieth and Jason Day. More of it still goes to them, which is fine by me. Rightfully so.
Yeah, I mean, Augusta was shock and awe in all senses, both on and off the golf course. The Open has been a lot of awe. Still. Still in awe. But the shock wasn’t there. But I think that’s because of what’s happened from ’07 to ’15. Just more prepared for it and probably more comfortable with whatever comes our way.
Our filtering process is pretty efficient I think.
Q. This is going to sound like a really bad question, but turning 40 in February, how do you look at this part of your career coming up or timeline in your life coming up? What do you want to do in these last X amount of years that you have left of really prime good golf?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, not to be redundant or cliche, but I still feel like my best golf is ahead me. If I’m going to get specific, I want to keep winning. I want to stay healthy, so eliminate any sort of — almost said freak injury but any sort of — knock on wood I haven’t had anything significant. I have had a week here or there where I have had to rest.
But the attention I put into the gym is just as significant as the attention I put in on the practice range. As I’ve gotten older are probably even more so. From a mental standpoint it’s definitely more my attention just because I know — I mean, I think my fundamentals are ingrained enough.
I feel like if I just stay healthy I can continue to compete. I need to practice and improve. Not denying that. I just want to get better, however that may be. Both on or off the golf course. I still think there is more — there is a capacity there to get better. I mean, my coaches, we’ve met once this fall and hashed some things out. I think we’ll probably regroup again here in the next two to four weeks, three weeks, and really try to solidify a game plan.
So we’ll plot out a plan both schedule-wise to a degree and then also practice. Just try to make it something that works. For the most part, we’ve done a good job of that. There is a lot of maintenance, because clearly what I’m doing isn’t that bad. I mean, it’s good.
What I’ve learned in my — my 12th season?
THE MODERATOR: Going into your 13th.
ZACH JOHNSON: Okay. In my 12 years, once I get complacent or content with things they go astray. I got to stay — I think I’m pretty good about and I have learned from other guys just staying in right now.
That’s going to be my attention. The more I focus on the past and/or future, I think I could go the other direction.
Q. Have you ever allowed yourself, especially post St. Andrews, to think about a career Grand Slam?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, well, I’ve been asked the question, so I really don’t think about it. Yeah, you’re not the first to ask. No. Sorry.
Q. Well forget it.
ZACH JOHNSON: I mean, yeah. I’ve thought about it. There is still a lot to be done.
Q. And have you allowed yourself in this era, especially with 12 wins and two majors – that’s bordering on Hall of Fame numbers – have you allowed yourself to think about that?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I’ve been asked that question as well ironically. Numerous times actually. Shocking.
I mean, the way I see it is to me the Hall of Fame is something like, yeah, he’s kind of on his way out. His best is behind him. I might even be retired. That’s the way I envision it.
To me, you have your grandkids with you, that kind of thing. So I don’t really think about it. I just feel like there is so much more to do and I just want to keep playing. I get the question all the time: What do you want to do once you quit competing at a high level or just quit competing in general?
I don’t have the faintest idea. I just want to keep playing. You ever thought about designing golf courses? No, I haven’t. I want to play them.
So those kind of things are just so far in the future that there is zero focus on that. Fortunately.
I just think if there is any thoughts, future thoughts, it’s all about my kids and what they’re going to be doing or not doing.
Q. What is your comfort level at the Plantation course compared to the Seaside course here?
ZACH JOHNSON: Good question. I don’t think I’m as comfortable. I mean, I was able to play last week. I played with Davis and Dru and Jonathan Byrd. Got nine holes in. I played it probably a handful to ten times, you know, over the years.
I think it’s pretty good. I think it’s underrated personally. I don’t think the scores are going to be that much different. Probably depends on what direction and velocity of wind we have.
Certainly more comfortable on Seaside. Just picking out lines. I think I’ve seen every wind on Seaside; probably haven’t seen every wind on Plantation. What’s really cool is you have two adjacent golf courses that are completely different. The greens roll the same, which is nice. They’re both pure.
Yeah, wouldn’t shock me if the scores are very similar course to course. There is a lot of hidden wind in there, trees on the Plantation relative to Seaside.
Q. I know you said it’s nice to sleep in your own bed this week. Rest of the year you’re out in hotels, whatever the case may be. What’s different about your game when you sleep in your own bed?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I would like to say it’s better, but I think I’ve missed the cut at least twice here. Maybe three times.
Q. I don’t think a local golfer has won it.
ZACH JOHNSON: Chris Curtin. He’s not local anymore. But, well, you know, there could be — I don’t feel undue pressure. Could be a little bit of pressure playing in front of family or friends. At this point I don’t have — I don’t feel that, I don’t think.
No, there is a comfort level there. Comfortable in the sense that it’s my home, but also a little bit different because I’m competing while staying at home. Just a different element.
Like my kids are still — like tomorrow morning I’m taking my kids to school before I play. Excuse me, not tomorrow. I play early. Friday. So that’s kind of different.
It is what it is. This is home and I just love being here. It’s vacation almost, too.
Q. You’re in a position heading into next year where you have a legitimate chance of making the Olympic team. How high on the radar is that for you? What would it mean?
ZACH JOHNSON: It would mean a great deal. It would be an honor. Any time I’ve been able to represent my country in anything I relish it, savor it.
But it’s not on my radar right now. I’ve learned much, like the guys ahead of me, the more I focused on those kind of qualifying things that my game just falls a part.
I can give you examples back in ’05 and ’06 where I tried too hard. I’m just going to play. The difficult thing this year is just going to be navigating the schedule. It’s totally different. I’m assuming four years from now it’ll be totally different again.
May not sound like that big of a deal, but it is. My off weeks are just as strategic as my on weeks. When it comes to what I have at home and what I’m doing business-wise and everything, and competing. So trying to juggle that and formulate and plot out a good schedule is going to be a priority. I think it’s crucial when you have Fed Cup points Ryder Cup points, potential Olympic team, that’s a lot.
Q. Are you going to change the schedule to chase it because you’re close or if it happens it happens?
ZACH JOHNSON: To my knowledge, the Olympic team is based on world rankings, I ain’t got the faintest idea how that works. I do know I play more probably than some of the guys, 24, 25 weeks a year. I don’t know. I may add a tournament here or there. To say that the Olympics is more important than Ryder Cup, I would not say that. At all.
If it means adding a tournament or substituting a tournament potentially, yeah, definitely. Once again, it’s going to be dependant upon when I’m taking time off, where the golf course is, what’s ahead of and behind me. All sorts of factors involved.
Q. One of the perks for most people winning a major is basically the appearance money. The wheelbarrow, as Ernie Els famously called it overseas. Just checking. In ’07 I don’t believe you did any of that.
ZACH JOHNSON: College football. No, just kidding. Actually, I’m not kidding. What’s your question?
Q. Someone who doesn’t travel much overseas, have you ever been tempted by it, and what’s kept you from it?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, once again, it’s a long list. As far as I can tell, we’ve got really, really good tournaments in the United States, and I feel like the more opportunities I can play in the United States the more opportunities I have winning in the United States. I think that’s a bigger deal in my opinion, because it’s the best tour.
Otherwise other guys wouldn’t be playing on our tour. You don’t see 50 Americans playing anywhere else than on the PGA TOUR. I am not suggesting they are not good tournaments and tours, but facts are facts.
Usually those opportunities come basically in the fall and into the early winter to a degree. I just think — I have to take time off at some point. They’re never around — unless you play the Scottish Open — they’re really never around the majors. I’m playing a lot that time if the year to stay in good form.
As a result, when the fall comes around I’m pretty spent. I’m not 25 anymore and I got three kids and want to be at home in the fall.
I’ve got obligations outside of being inside the ropes, so I want to give that attention. It’s just not a priority. At some point down the road I want to do it. I want to take my kids to here and there, other continents, that kind of thing.
At this stage of life and season of life we’re in, it’s just not a huge priority right now. Not going to say it couldn’t happen next year or next year or next year. And the other side of the that, if you’re going to look specifically at ’16, I don’t want to say it’s a waste of a week, but why would I spend a week working elsewhere when I get no Ryder Cup points?
I can do it here and potentially help myself make that team. Possibly. I think that’s a huge priority.
Q. If the Hall of Fame or career Grand Slam was kind of out there, would you have a goal maybe more realistic of maybe wanting to be a Ryder Cup captain in the next decade or so?
ZACH JOHNSON: Goal? I don’t know if it’s a goal. Yeah, I would love that honor. That would be amazing. Whether it’s Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup. I would totally. Man, I can’t — certainly it’s been discussed with close friends and family and peers of mine.
That would be huge. I respect the PGA TOUR immensely. I respect the PGA of America immensely and how they both go about tournaments. Someone says exhibitions. They’re tournaments.
So that kind of stuff just gives me the heebie-jeebies. It means so much to me. I think all my peers that have played in those things would say the same thing.
We’ve had phenomenal captains have led me in those events. I know we got another great one this coming year. So it would be a great honor. It’s a substantial responsibility, but I think it’s one that if given the opportunity I could tackle. I would certainly make it a priority, you know.
But that’s down the road. I’m still in my 30s. Come on.
Q. Just to go back halfway to the career slam and Hall of Fame and stuff like that, I guess the context is is there any way you could have imagine this as you were driving around in that Dodge Intrepid from the Dakotas, trying to find your way out here?
ZACH JOHNSON: Wow, nice research. All the time. There are times when things just hit me and other I times where I’m surrounded by my past. In other words, people.
Yeah, I oftentimes think: Man, why me back then? How and why? But the story — I get it. It’s not the most normal route.
Again, I’m a product of people that put time and energy and trust into me. With the ability I had, I was able to continue to improve. Just that was my route, my story. I was a late bloomer in a lot of respects, especially athletically.
I mean, I’ll tell you right now those tours and those days, as I said, driving every interstate in the United States, essentially grew me and got me to where I am today.
I know every interstate I think in the United States. My wife used to quiz me with an atlas. Where does this one start and end? I could tell you. It’s pretty pathetic.
That was essentially ’98 to ’02, so a five-year gap. Just makes you appreciate certainly where you were and where you’ve come from and what opportunity means. That’s really what it all is.
I’ve still got buddies trying to do it back there, and they are good players. It’s really about making the best of your opportunities, and somehow I was able to do that.
Q. Last thing on your age. The reason I would bring that up is it’s hard to look at you as someone turning 40 next year. How old do you feel? Do you feel like the years, doing the interstate quiz and everything added years to your life or just having the last 12 years out here makes you feel younger than you are?
ZACH JOHNSON: Maybe a combination of the two. There are certain respects where I feel like I still got to prove myself out here. I know that sounds really strange, but I still feel like there is opportunity to prove myself out here. That’s me and my mentality as whole.
Just trying to do exactly that: Get better and prove to myself that I’m a good player. To myself.
On the flip side, I’ve got young guys that are 22, 25, younger generation coming up and asking me for advice. That’s bizarre. I get it. But heck, someone even said today that one of those kids that just won was like, Yeah, I can’t wait to play with him because whatever.
He’s in my corner because of the way he models his game or something like that. So strange. Like I try to look at Jim Furyk as a model. He’s only three, four years older than me, but play similar games.
So it’s just bizarre the dynamic that’s changed for me, especially in the last two or three years. This tour is getting younger and I’m getting older, so clearly I’m a veteran at this point. It’s hard to swallow.
I don’t feel like I’m 39, mentally especially. Not that much more wisdom in there. Physically I feel better now than I did I would say three or four years ago. So that’s good.
I think that’s probably why where I need to keep the focus.