Zach Johnson leans on Sea Island counterpart Davis Love III in Ryder Cup captaincy preparation
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Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin
Zach Johnson on potential to be playing captain at 2023 Ryder Cup
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Davis Love III and Zach Johnson, two of Sea Island’s esteemed veterans, share a podium with ease.
The coastal Georgia community has steadily built a reputation as one of the TOUR’s leading locales, with double-digit residents competing at their hometown The RSM Classic this week. Love and Johnson have been central forces in the island community’s growth in the professional golf landscape, mentoring countless young pros through the ups and downs of the journey.
Their career arcs have been further synchronized in recent months, as Johnson prepares to serve as U.S. Ryder Cup captain at next fall’s matches in Rome.
Love served as winning U.S. Team captain at this year’s Presidents Cup in his native North Carolina, with Johnson serving as a captain’s assistant. The U.S. Team defeated the International Team by a 17.5-12.5 margin at Quail Hollow, withstanding a spirited International Team charge over the weekend.
As Johnson prepares for his first captaincy in Rome, he’ll have a familiar face for counsel. Love and Johnson plan for a summit of sorts this coming Monday, hopefully after a weekend in contention at Sea Island GC.
Considering the TOUR’s calendar year of FedExCup competition concludes in their adopted hometown, there’s no better place. Not that Johnson intends to rip up the script.
“I’ll say the beauty of what’s been established … is that we have a system,” Johnson said Wednesday, alluding to the growing synergy between the United States’ Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup strategic preparations in recent years. “The system for Team USA is really, really good right now. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to win, but it’s good, and it can take on the personality year-in and year-out of that leader, so you can stay on the same road and just have a different bus driver.”
So what does that entail for Johnson? The Iowa native has carved out a legacy for maximizing his talent through hard work and preparation. Never one of the game’s longest hitters, he maintained status in the game’s upper echelon as the Tiger-inspired wave of young “bomb-and-gouge” pros entered the TOUR in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Johnson, 46, has won 12 times on TOUR including the 2007 Masters and 2015 Open Championship.
He might be on the back half of his TOUR career, but he has maintained a full schedule and spends ample time with prospective U.S. Ryder Cup team members across the TOUR calendar. He could be considered a bridge captain between generations.
“Knowing that my peers want me to do this is everything to me,” Johnson said. “I'm a guy that, I can't stand drama, so it's going to be my goal to avoid that. It's not always easy, it's not always practical, it's not always going to happen. That's No. 1.
“No. 2 would be, I just want to give the guys the ability to enter the most uncomfortable week in a very comfortable manner. The system's already in place, I'm going to follow it, I'm going to nuance it to Zach and Kim Johnson and represent that team as best I can.”
Johnson played in five Ryder Cups and has served as a captain’s assistant in the past two Ryder Cups. Love played in six Ryder Cups and has served as both a captain and captain’s assistant. Johnson played a crucial role for Love at this year’s Presidents Cup – “Zach and I had a not-so-fun Saturday making pairings,” Love said of attempting to hold off the International Team after a Saturday surge. (The attempt was successful.)
How does Johnson project as a captain? Love is well-equipped to answer.
“He’s really good at time management,” Love said. “He's really good at using his team to set up a game plan. He hadn't hardly been named captain and I got two phone calls from other people that he already talked to about helping him with food and travel and things like that … the practice round thing, he's already thinking about that, how to get guys more used to the golf course. He's on it.
“Now we have somebody smart and organized that’s a captain, so we can move forward.”
Love may downplay his strengths as a captain, but the results at Quail Hollow suggest otherwise. And he’ll aim to guide his fellow Sea Island cornerstone to a similar outcome.
Kevin Prise is an associate editor for PGATOUR.COM. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.