Dad and his decanter
Zach Johnson never imagined winning two majors. Now they’re talking about his Hall of Fame credentials.
July 27, 2015
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
SEA ISLAND, Ga. – Less than 48 hours into his new role as Champion Golfer of the Year, Zach Johnson still wasn’t clear on the protocol or proper handling of golf’s most historic piece of hardware now cradled in his left arm.
In his haste to make an intercontinental flight following his Open Championship win at St. Andrews, Johnson had received only minimal instructions regarding the Claret Jug. Basically, he was given a sturdy travel case with metal edges to carry it home; a silver polish cloth inside to wipe away the fingerprints and keep it shiny; and the unspoken directives.
Don’t lose it. Don’t dent it.
Beyond that, Johnson was still seeking answers. How long would he be allowed to keep it? (He’s thinking a year.) Were there any rules of etiquette he should adhere to? Would he get a chance to buy a replica Claret Jug once he returns the original to the R&A?
On the latter point, Johnson certainly hopes so. On the plane ride home from St. Andrews, his friend Jason Dufner informed him that PGA Championship winners – of which Dufner became in 2013 -- get a replica of the Wanamaker Trophy that is 90 percent the size of the original.
“I’m assuming there’s something similar for this,” he says, gently placing the Claret Jug on a nearby table.
A replica would be nice. No such thing exists for the symbol of Johnson’s other major win, the 2007 Masters. His Green Jacket -- the real one -- hangs in the clubhouse at Augusta National. He gets to see it and wear it on property at the appropriate occasions, such as the Champions Dinner during Masters week. But there’s no constant reminder at home, nothing in his own closet.
Having a Claret Jug, even at 90 percent scale, would evoke fond memories for the rest of his life. Wouldn’t be a bad conversation starter, too. Johnson even has the opening line.
You know this thing was originally a decanter?
But first, he wants to set up a meeting between the real Claret Jug and the Green Jacket. It’ll need to be at Augusta National, of course, so next April seems likely -- unless he can get there during an off-day. It’d definitely be worth the 205-mile drive from his home in nearby St. Simons Island to Augusta.
“Hopefully I can make introductions at some point,” he grins.
For now, his plans for the Claret Jug are fairly simple – share it with as many family, friends and fans as he can.
He’ll give it to caddie Damon Green for a while; who knows, maybe Green will even do his famed chicken dance with it, the one he flashed when Johnson nailed the 30-foot on the 72nd hole that secured a spot in the playoff. He’ll give it to his swing coach, Mike Bender. He’ll give it to his trainer, Dr. Troy Van Biezen. Others will have their time with it, too.
And he’s definitely going to take it to Iowa, to his hometown of Cedar Rapids. It’s not just so they can see the Claret Jug or touch it. He wants them to feel like they played a part in his success. This is the reward for their support.
“All those individuals and all those people who have gotten me to this point – why not share it with them?” Johnson says. “It just seems natural. Just seems like the best thing to do.
“Not everybody wears a 40 reg (regulation), so they can’t wear the Green Jacket. But they can at least partake in this.”
Have Iowans ever seen the Claret Jug? No doubt they’re going to love having it in their state.
“They might go crazy,” Johnson concurs. “Plus, they like to drink. Juuuuust sayin’'.”
Was Zach Johnson’s win last week completely out of the blue?
Not if you looked at his recent results at The Open Championship – two top-10 finishes and another top-20 finish among his last four starts. Considering he had missed the cut in his first three Opens, it was obvious he had become more comfortable on pure links courses.
Plus, he doesn’t mind playing in windy conditions. Frankly, it’s an advantage for him.
“I rarely fight the wind,” he says. “You see guys that are grinding into the wind, but I use the wind. I love links courses. I think it brings out the best in me.”
And yet, he wasn’t so sure about St. Andrews. Of all the courses that host the Open, the Old Course seemed to give him the most trouble. He had missed the cut there in 2005; in 2010, he and Scott Verplank tied for last place among all the players who made the cut.
“If I were to pick a golf course in the rotation that I would probably have the least chance of winning at, St. Andrews would be one of the first I would pick,” he says. “There are so many odd carries there.
“I just didn’t think I had the game to do it there.”
But during his practice rounds, he started feeling comfortable with the layout. He found places he could hit it to, places that would give him scoring opportunities.
No, he couldn’t avoid the pot bunkers by simply overpowering the course like the other famous Johnson on the PGA TOUR – Dustin – did for the first two rounds. But if Zach could maintain his usual accuracy off the tee and successfully navigate the winds, then he could stay out of trouble.
It was odd for Zach to feel this way because it reminded him, in an eerie sense, to a tournament he played eight years earlier. The 2007 Masters.
That week, Johnson came back after his first practice round and basically gave himself no shot to win. He told himself the course was playing too long. The wet conditions meant he would be getting no roll.
But as the week progressed, the winds picked up, Augusta National dried out, and the fairways became more narrow. Suddenly, a course that had offered him only frustration was now playing to his strengths.
“I didn’t think I would win that week – and I did,” Johnson recalls. “That’s kind of how I felt about St. Andrews.”
To a certain degree, that’s kind of how Johnson has felt about his own golfing career. While others may set pie-in-the-sky goals they end up achieving, Johnson keeps surprising himself, keeps achieving the unexpected.
As a kid, he never would have predicted that he would eventually graduate from college and become a professional golfer. As a young pro, he couldn’t have fathomed making it to the PGA TOUR. Once on TOUR, he didn’t dare dream about winning – and once he won, he didn’t dare dream about winning majors.
It’s not so much that he has low expectations of himself. It’s just that he stays in the moment. He’ll be the first to admit that he’s not the most gifted, so he must make up for that by taking a workmanlike approach, a grinder’s mentality, and a step-on-the-throat finish when the opportunities arise.
That last trait is the one that most sets him apart, the one that’s resulted in 12 PGA TOUR wins and those two majors.
“It doesn’t bother me to get into tough situations,” he said. “I can execute under duress. … I relish those situations that are difficult or trying. I like being pushed. I like being tested. I like taking the last shot. I like having my back against the wall.
“I like being the underdog. That’s what fuels me. I hope I have more of those opportunities.”
Dreams are for the excessively gifted. The guys with grit, guys like Johnson, would rather deal with reality. But it was the Masters win in 2007 that Johnson finally learned he could hold his own against anybody and everybody else.
“Once I got the Augusta win,” he says, “I’m like, ‘Well, something’s going right. Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing and see how far it can take me.’ "
By now, you’re aware of the exclusive company that Zach Johnson joined by winning last week. In the history of golf, six men have won majors at both Augusta National and St. Andrews.
Four are in the World Golf Hall of Fame: Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo.
One has a guaranteed reservation: Tiger Woods.
And now there’s Johnson.
In light of his Open Championship victory, much has been discussed about his Hall of Fame credentials. With two majors, he’s met the criteria (once he turns 40, which will be next February).
The Zach-for-HOF bandwagon is now quite crowded. In the twilight of Johnson’s playoff win over Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman on Monday, Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee went right to the point: “I think it will ultimately be the event that gets Zach Johnson into the Hall of Fame.”
Since he does live in the moment, since he doesn’t usually sit back and contemplate his place among golf’s legends, Johnson has a difficult time comprehending the concept.
“Ridiculous,” he says. “To me, the Hall of Fame sounds like something when I’m done playing.”
And yet …
“It would be awesome. It would be fantastic,” he adds. “It would really highlight – really pinpoint – all of what it takes to get to that point. Meaning the people, the team, the coaches, how we’re went about doing it. I think we’re doing it the right way, and the fact that the game of golf can take a kid from Iowa who’s not supposed to make it, but who makes it.”
Two majors certainly speaks volumes. But what if he had been stuck at one?
After all, eight years is a lengthy time between majors. Most multiple-winners seem to get them quicker. Mark O’Meara was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday of Open Championship week on the strength of his two majors, both of which came in 1998. David Graham, also inducted last week, won his two majors in a span of seven starts. Padraig Harrington won three majors within a span of six starts.
Heck, it took Jordan Spieth all of two months to go from one to two major wins.
But it took Johnson 34 more major starts before he claimed a second win. It’s a similar path as Ben Crenshaw, who went 39 major starts before winning his second Masters, or Hubert Green, who needed 31 starts to win a second major.
“I don’t think my career in golf, if I hadn’t won another one, would’ve been tarnished,” Johnson says. “At the same time, I do kind of think this one … there may be some validation involved. It’s just hard to win.
"You don’t win a major by luck.”
Unless Will Ferrell is involved.
Of the 495 congratulatory messages Johnson received after his win, one was from the comedian/actor. The two had sat next to each other at a small dinner party at St. Andrews, and exchanged numbers. After last week’s win, Ferrell told Johnson he has attended just two majors – the 2007 Masters and the 2015 Open Championship.
Weird coincidence … or twist of fate? After all, Ron Burgundy is kind of a big deal. Johnson can only laugh. “I’m not a believer in all that,” he says, “but I do think it’s pretty random that there are eight years between the two and he was at both.”
Those two wins put Johnson halfway to the career Grand Slam. He’ll get a chance to add a third leg next month at Whistling Straits. It’s a links-style course. Could be right up his alley.
His preparations will start soon. Maybe a 90 percent Wanamaker will one day occupy space in his house, just like it does for Dufner.
For now, though, Johnson is happy to be home and enjoy his family. After returning from St. Andrews, he had professional photos shot with his wife and three kids. There’s one of Johnson walking away from the camera, the Claret Jug dangling from one hand, his sons Will and Wyatt on either side.
He’s asked if his kids grasp the significance of what their old man just achieved.
“Will might, maybe a little,” Johnson says of his oldest, who’s 8. “But I’m not so sure I care if he does or doesn’t at this point. As he matures and gets older, it’s going to happen at some point. But I don’t want them to think this is going to define me, or what I do or how I do it. I don’t think I’ve changed. I know they won’t think that.
“I’m still dad,” Johnson adds. He then sneaks another peek at the Claret Jug. “It just so happens that dad plays golf and wins decanters.”