John Deere Classic interview: Zach Johnson

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July 11, 2013

MORE INTERVIEWS: John Deere Classic interviews archive

DOUG MILNE:  We would again like to welcome Zach Johnson to the interview room after a successful 7‑under 64 in round 1 of the John Deere Classic.  If I've added correctly, this is your 17th consecutive round in the 60s in this event.

ZACH JOHNSON:  Wow.

DOUG MILNE:  And that being said, I will just turn it over to you for some comments on the round.

ZACH JOHNSON:  That doesn't stink.

Yeah, I mean, it was a really, really solid day.  Today was one of those days where I remember I was thinking over the last few days I felt really good, but when you're striking it well Monday, and I played back at home Monday, and then when you're striking it well Tuesday and same thing on Wednesday, you're like, okay, just don't stop.  That's not easy to do.

But I came in today just trying to be fresh and patient and trying to forget about frankly even the last three days and just trying to stay in the present.  I mean, as I continued to make birdies it just felt like I was playing ‑‑ just going through the routine and the motions of hitting shots.  It certainly doesn't hurt when you're playing with one, two good friends, and two guys that are playing great, as well.

Got off to a good start, and I felt like I ended pretty well, as well.

Q.  Was this like one continuous thing, or did it feel like a different ‑‑

ZACH JOHNSON:  Not really.  It's hard to believe that it's been a year.  Yeah, I just kind of felt like you're just leading into the next round here.  The weather feels very similar.  The course is, once again, in tremendous shape, and that goes without saying here.  It is the John Deere, right?  Yeah, and just I guess the only difference is that I changed partners when I teed it up the first hole.  Fortunately those partners were two good friends.  But yeah, it just kind of feels like everything is flowing from year to year, which is a lot of fun.

Q.  Playing here and being the champion and the pressures and added responsibilities, does that give you more appreciation for Steve winning it three years in a row?

ZACH JOHNSON:  Yeah, I actually mentioned that outside.  Playing in front of friends and family, I've gotten used to it.  Playing in this golf tournament and on this golf course I've gotten used to.  Playing as a board member I've gotten used to.  However, I don't know what my record has been here.  Obviously I won last year and I had a good finish the previous year, but I can only imagine winning this tournament twice in a row, let alone three times in a row.  I think I've defended once successfully, but it was like a seven‑month lap over rather than 12‑month lap over on TOUR, and it's just not easy.

Confidence is great.  I mean, anything you ‑‑ when you can embrace the positives you had from the previous year or previous rounds, that sort of thing, that's great.  However, you still have to ‑‑ you've got to feel the outcome, kind of eliminating the thoughts out of your brain and really just stay in the present.  Like you said, that's what makes what Steve did that much more impressive.  To take it to another level, that's what makes what Tiger has done over the years on multiple golf courses, multiple events, repeating, defending, what have you, even beyond impressive.

Q.  Do you credit some of the comfort level for your success today?  You talked about playing with friends of yours, being back here in a place where you've had success.  Does that tie into the good round today?

ZACH JOHNSON:  Yeah, when you're comfortable with the grounds, that always helps.  When you're comfortable with the surroundings, when you're comfortable with the peripherals, when you're comfortable with ‑‑ I mean, my routine here has been the same the last three or four years.  We're staying in the same place.  I've got my family with me.  I've got my extended family coming to visit.

Some minor obligations.  Most of my obligations with the tournament are for the most part before this week.  Clair does a great job of letting me ‑‑ and the staff does a great job of just letting me get into my game, which I'm appreciative of.  Minimal board responsibilities the week of the tournament.

You know, it just feels natural now.  I mean, I've gotten so used to just being here that it just feels very, very comfortable, you know, much like my golf game, though, I don't want to get overly content with the fact that I'm overly comfortable.  So I've still got to go work.

I was kind of thinking about it a couple days ago:  I haven't had a great year as far as my stats go or finishes, if you will, but I kind of ‑‑ it kind of frees me up almost right now, and it's just nice that this week falls in that slot.  I feel great about my game, but I've felt great about my game for the last month and a half, and I'm continuing to get more and more comfortable with my game.

It's nice having a tournament and a course that I'm certainly happy to be playing.  I'd play it every week.

Q.  With 17 straight rounds in the 60s it's hard to think that there was ever a time that we wondered if this was all too much for you.

ZACH JOHNSON:  Well, you need to ask yourself that.  I've always felt comfortable here, regardless of my numbers.  I mean, this is, I think, my 11th start ‑‑ 12th start.  Whatever.  It's my 12th start.  I don't know how many cuts I've missed.  I know I missed the first one, maybe two on sponsor exemptions.  But I mean, outside of maybe the last five years I haven't had great finishes.

Like I said the previous question, I've just gotten so used to just everything about this tournament.  I mean, especially having close people outside the ropes following me.  That was hard for me at one time.  I mean, I've actually had discussions with some of the young guys out here about that very subject:  How do you play in front of hometown sort of people, family?  You want to do so well for them.  You want to push it, and it's easy to kind of get ahead of yourself and start thinking about birdies and 60 something and top 5 and all that sort of thing, rather than just staying in the moment.

I'm not trying to overly simplify it, but what I've done is just felt like, you know what, it doesn't matter if I shoot 85 or if I shoot 60.  Michael Haas and Greg Brown are still going to be here in here cheering for me.  It's just the fact of the game and where I'm at here, and I'm so thankful for that.

Q.  When you talk to young players about it, do you say just find a process?

ZACH JOHNSON:  Yeah, it is cliché in a lot of respects.  You have to throw out the past.  You have to throw out the fact that you're comfortable here, or just the opposite, that you're not comfortable in this position.  Just eliminate the outcome thoughts and stay in the now because the reason you're playing in front of friends and family near your hometown is because you're a good player.  So just go do what you do, and if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen, but you're going to learn from it.

I mean, you know, I feel like I'm playing great right now, but if I was coming into this week not really confident and I struggled today, that's a very possible scenario next year, or heck, even tomorrow unfortunately, but I feel confident about tomorrow.  It's a possible scenario any year, and that's fine.  I can live with that, especially now that I've won, but even before that.  I could live with the fact that I don't play well in front of family or friends just because to them it's ‑‑ they still like following me, regardless.

Q.  Is there anybody in particular that you can think of that you shared that with?

ZACH JOHNSON:  I'd rather not ‑‑

Q.  You always hear of players in a threesome or twosomes that all play well and carry each other along.  Was that true today?

ZACH JOHNSON:  Yeah, I think there's some truth to that.  I don't know why that is, maybe just because you see one ball get in the fairway and it seems like it's easier to paint your picture and hit your shot.  I can't answer that.  That's probably a sports psychology kind of question.  But yeah, I mean, it's comfortable just because you're seeing a lot of solid shots and you're not seeing errant shots take bad bounces and get into trouble.  Anything visual like that potentially could cause a hiccup.

Yeah, I mean, it's nice playing with two guys that are playing well.  I mean, I don't know what they shot, but they probably played better ‑‑ I feel like they played better than what they shot.

Q.  About three or four years ago in Atlanta you said something that stuck with me about your process, you make a decision while in your shot and you just accept where it goes.  Have you fine tuned that at all the last five years?

ZACH JOHNSON:  Yeah, I mean, to really probably ‑‑ well, to explain that further, Dr. Mo Pickens and I, we talk a lot, but one thing we do, it seems like it's kind of every few months, every couple months we try to keep things fresh.  We may go back to something down the road, but to answer your question, back then it was the same thing.  It was a circle, right?  Each shot was a circle.  Picking my target out or picking my club, figuring out all the elements, committing, executing, reacting, and then doing it again.  What I have in my yardage book is that exact same circle that was put into play at Merion in the U.S. Open.

I'm always trying to think like that.  However, sometimes you've got to change it a little bit or maybe tweak it.  Not change it but just kind of tweak it, just depending on where you are mentally.  Dr. Mo does a great job with that.

Q.  How good are you at accepting the result?

ZACH JOHNSON:  I think that's one of my stronger suits.  I mean, I'm going to get frustrated or upset, but you want to, and then you've just got to completely put it away, and whether you have just like ‑‑ you count or whether you take a couple deep breaths or whatever it is, I feel like kind of bouncing back, if you will, whether it's a hole or one shot in particular, or a round, I feel like I've been pretty good with that over my career.  I'm still probably getting ‑‑ I still can get better with it, but I feel like it's one of my better suits.

To me that's something that I think you can kind of label as just being mentally tough.  When things are going astray, you just get back on course.  I don't enjoy it, but I certainly relish the fact that I can do it.

Q.  Now that you've got the setup corrected and the driver is back on line, it's just a matter of making some putts were you.  Is there a comfort level on these greens?  You seem to putt pretty well here.

ZACH JOHNSON:  Yeah, I mean, this place, bentgrass greens are very comfortable.  They're a little faster today.  Keegan and I were just talking about it, a little faster today, especially like the last ‑‑ they're just releasing like a foot, foot and a half, but they should be, and typically the course gets faster as the week goes on, so speed is paramount.

I love bent.  Colonial, bent greens.  Just very, very comfortable with my reads and committing to that.  I've putted well on Bermuda.  I've putted well on poa annua every now and then, but I'm much more comfortable on this type of surface.  We've got a couple more tournaments with bent in the next structure here, and I'm pretty excited about it.

Saying that, I mean, if you're striking solid putts, I don't know if it really matters what you're putting on.  I'm just ‑‑ hopefully I can keep picking it up out of the hole pretty quick.

Q.  You played well in defense of your title at Colonial.  Did you learn anything from that experience you can take going into this?

ZACH JOHNSON:  That's one thing I'm proud of is Colonial.  I had a pretty average round I think it was the first, maybe second round, I can't remember.  But I played really steady golf the rest of the week and never put myself in a position to really make a big number or even make a bogey.  I think my bogeys were three‑putts.  So yeah, I like that.  Knowing that I can do it and be comfortable playing well back‑to‑back years is great.  But it's not like it's going to be given to me.  I've got to work and continue like we were just saying, going through my circles.

Q.  The general consensus all week leading up to today is it's going to be a birdie‑fest out there.  You guys kind of proved that.  Is that going to continue or are you going to have to keep going low in order to be in the tournament?

ZACH JOHNSON:  Yeah, it wouldn't surprise me.  Part of it is the rain we had on ‑‑ what day was it, Sunday or Monday?

Q.  Tuesday.

ZACH JOHNSON:  Well, whatever, regardless, we had rain early on in the week, and the greens are receptive.  I mean, the bent greens can get firm and fast.  When there's humidity and some saturation, you feel like you've got to be aggressive, especially if you've got a 7‑iron on down in your bag into the greens.  If anything you've got to control your spin.  I mean, I remember ‑‑ I don't know whether I made a birdie there, but 15 I had 138 yards downhill, downwind, and it still spun 15, 20 feet, which you're not expecting.  But that does make the course easier.

And the fairways are starting to roll out, but when you have greens that are receptive, you feel like you've got to shoot low, and minimal winds.  Maybe a half club here, maybe a club at the most if you're straight in or straight down.  But most tournaments, most weeks, it seems like we have a lot of club‑and‑a‑half, two‑club winds.  Not the case right now.

Q.  With it firming up any chance that maybe the scores go up just a notch?

ZACH JOHNSON:  Possible, yeah.  Absolutely possible.

Q.  Is 20 still going to be a target figure?

ZACH JOHNSON:  That's a great ‑‑ the forecast is pretty much the same as today if I'm not mistaken.  Less than 20 percent chance of rain if I'm not mistaken, although rain probably wouldn't make it any harder.  Yeah, you know, 80‑degree temperatures, humidity, ball goes a long way into receptive greens, yep, I think so.  The quality of this field ‑‑ I think this field is great every year, and if you look at the ‑‑ I don't know what list you look at, but you just look at the individuals that are playing this week, it's probably one of the best fields we've ever had.  So yep, I think so.

DOUG MILNE:  Zach, we appreciate your time.

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