Johnson takes advantage of ‘opportunity’ at Sanderson Farms with opening-round 67
September 19, 2019
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Zach Johnson's impressive up-and-down leads to birdie at Sanderson Farms
JACKSON, Miss. – ‘Opportunity’ is a word used often at the Sanderson Farms Championship. The second event of the PGA TOUR season provides new players fresh off the Korn Ferry Tour the chance to gain experience, get a head-start in the FedExCup race and even earn that maiden victory and all the trappings that accompany it.
The PGA TOUR’s newest members aren’t the only ones who can change the trajectory of their career during this time of year, though. Veteran players, the ones with majors and FedExCups on their resume, also appear on the tee sheets of these early events. Many are trying to recapture that winning feeling or at least gain some confidence before the calendar changes to a new year.
Zach Johnson falls into that latter category. He’s competing in the Sanderson Farms Championship after a season that he simply describes as ‘frustrating.’ He hasn’t had a top-10 in this calendar year and missed the FedExCup Playoffs for the first time since they started in 2007. At 43 years old, the former Drake Bulldog still desires to be competitive on the PGA TOUR. And so he is battling the heat in Mississippi in search of the game that he still believes is in him.
“I’m trying to treat each week as a phenomenal opportunity to get better,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to improve, rather than getting caught up in results or assessing aspects of my game.”
The results were good Thursday. Johnson, who’s playing this event for the first time since 2005, shot 5-under 67 on Thursday. He is three shots behind leader Tom Hoge.
“I just kind of plodded myself around and gave myself good opportunities. I had some I left out there, but certainly capitalized on a few as well,” Johnson said. “There was just nothing silly about it. I made one decent putt. For the most part, I kept the golf course in front of me, picked it apart when I could, and hit solid shots.”
Johnson, who missed the cut in last week’s A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, made just one bogey Thursday. He hit half the fairway, but missed just five greens. The Georgia resident has had success throughout his career on Bermudagrass, and he found the old-school Country Club of Jackson to his liking. He gained nearly 1.5 strokes on the greens Thursday, holing a 30-footer on the fourth hole and making all 17 of his attempts from inside 10 feet.
The statistics show that that club hurt him the most in 2019. He ranked 117th in Strokes Gained: Putting (-0.09). It was his first season that Johnson, who perennially ranked in the top 10 of that statistic, lost strokes on the greens.
“The frustrating part from the summer on is the fact that I think I've been working really hard and I just haven't seen the progress yet,” Johnson said. “But I think it's coming. I'm confident it's coming. I know what I'm doing, ball striking, short game, and on the putting green. It's going to surface. Just a matter of when, not if.”