Watch a preview of the John Deere Classic, where Zach Johnson will defend his title at TPC Deere Run.
By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
MOLINE, Ill. -- Zach Johnson is among friends this week. His fan club will make the short drive from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, across the Mississippi and into Moline wearing their Zach Attack T-shirts.
As defending champion of the John Deere Classic, Johnson will be feted and cheered throughout the tournament. That’s a good thing because the world has not been kind to him over the last month.
To be blunt, social media pundits have ripped into Johnson.
Johnson is one of the more courteous athletes you will ever meet. Following a missed cut at Merion during the U.S. Open, he obliged media requests and answered questions.
Johnson is a major champion and interview veteran. He knew what would be asked following a second round 77 and an 11-over 36-hole total. Johnson wasn’t tricked into an answer; he knew what he wanted to say and made sure he responded to questions with an even voice, showing no anger or frustration.
He had some outspoken opinions and expressed them.
“I would describe the whole golf course as manipulated. ... It just enhances my disdain for the USGA and how it manipulates golf courses. ... I think Merion is a great golf course, if you let Merion be, but that is not the agenda."
Personally, I don’t care if those opinions are spot-on or misled. I know Johnson believed them to be true and I respect his opinion.
In the locker room, his fellow players slapped him on the back and congratulated him for speaking the truth.
Social media has not been as kind.
The justice league that frequents Facebook and Twitter accounts have been very brave and very cruel. Cloaked in anonymity, Johnson has been criticized for his remarks with adjectives such as "crybaby" and "spoiled." Some of the remarks have been extremely personal.
Sometimes, I wonder why players ever do interviews.
We routinely criticize athletes for their vanilla answers. Every golfer "plays one hole at a time" and concerns himself with "the process not the results."
Now, here we have Johnson, who has the temerity to voice an honest opinion and gets ripped. What did he gain from that honesty?
You might think athletes have thick skins and pay no attention to public comments, but the level of criticism and its personal nature bothered Johnson. His family was certainly upset.
If you are a public figure, if you willingly thrust yourself into the public vortex, then there are times criticism is going to be leveled at you.
I have a great deal of respect for a reporter who voices or writes a dissenting viewpoint and faces the athlete the following day, but I wonder about the accountability of the watchdogs from social media.
There is a wonderful Greek legend of Diogenes, who wandered the streets of Athens at night with a lantern in search of an honest man.
Well, Diogenes can put down that lantern. We have found that honest man and his name is Zach Johnson.
That honesty is appreciated.
Conditions: It was a wet winter, followed by a rainy spring in the Quad Cities. The area has received 30 inches of rain, 4 inches in the last week. The Rock River is rolling at flood stage and TPC Deere Run is saturated. The weather forecast is promising, but the course is soft. Greens and fairways are going to be very receptive, leading to some very low numbers. Paul Goydos shot 59 here in 2010 and that number might be in play again this week. Bunker play could be tricky. Last week’s rain damaged bunkers and they needed repairs. Sometimes new sand can lead to buried lies.
Layout: TPC Deere Run sits high above the Rock River on a beautiful piece of property. The course is heavily wooded with elevation changes and natural water features. I think it’s one of the better TPC courses the PGA TOUR visits each year and, yet, I am always asked the same question: “Why does the TOUR play at such an easy course?” TPC Deere Run is not a pushover. Players do make a lot of birdies and shoot low numbers, but it’s not because the design is flawed. The course has bent grass greens that roll beautifully and must be kept moist to endure the Illinois summer heat. If this tournament was scheduled for the fall, when temperatures were cooler and the course was firm, the scores would be significantly higher. Don’t be misled into thinking TPC Deere Run is easy. Better yet, schedule a trip and play the course. Green fees are less than $100 for a PGA TOUR experience.
Equipment failure: It looked like Steve Stricker was headed to another win at last year’s John Deere when he started mishitting his driver on the final nine. He uncharacteristically sprayed it left and right and just missed the playoff. It was curious to watch Stricker suddenly lose form, and when he arrived at the British Open, Stricker’s caddy, Jimmy Johnson, noticed a crack in the face of the driver. They didn’t know if it was damaged during the final round of the John Deere Classic or during the plane flight to England. Stricker never made any excuses, but I have always wondered if equipment failure kept him from winning this tournament for a fourth time.
Winner, winner: One of the requirements for winning is the player has to like the course and the area. You can check both those categories for Louis Oosthuizen. He loves this tournament because he loves John Deere tractors. Oosthuizen takes a tour of the factory and dreams of buying equipment for his South African farm. He’s like a car aficionado drooling over the new models. Oosthuizen arrives in the Quad Cities with good form; he led the Greenbrier Classic in an underrated category: proximity to the hole. He is also motivated. Oosthuizen is 138th in FedExCup points and needs to make a move. He should do just that, with a win at the John Deere Classic.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.