Zach Johnson figuring prominently in 100th PGA Championship, as there are two of them
August 08, 2018
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
2018 PGA Championship preview
ST. LOUIS – Zach Johnson met Zach Johnson for a photo op at the end of the driving range at the PGA Championship at sweltering Bellerive Country Club on Wednesday.
One is a club pro who played for Southern Utah from 2001-2005, after which he tried without success to make it through PGA TOUR Q-School for four years. He eventually found a club job was a better fit. The other was born in Iowa but now lives in St. Simons Island, Georgia, and has 12 TOUR wins, including the 2007 Masters and 2015 Open Championship, to his name.
The club pro, 35, and the touring pro, 42, both wore shorts in the blazing heat. They got the basics out of the way first. Were they both Zachary, with an “ary”? Yes, and yes. What were their nicknames among friends? And what did their loved ones call them? There’d been some Twitter confusion to laugh about—fans thinking erroneously that TOUR pro Johnson had switched from PXG to TaylorMade clubs, the brand that club pro Johnson uses.
“Have a good week,” the famous Johnson said after the photographers had taken their shots.
“Oh, I am,” said Johnson, an assistant pro at Davis Park Golf Course outside Farmington, Utah.
“There isn’t any reason why you can’t do it,” TOUR pro Johnson said.
They shook hands and the TOUR pro went on his way, leaving the club pro on the range.
“I’ve got to let the goosebumps go down,” club pro Z.J. said. “Then I can hit again.”
Welcome to the 100th PGA at Bellerive, otherwise known as the Zach Johnson Experience, where of the 156 players in the PGA field, only 154 are not named Zach Johnson. The one from Utah finished T12 in the 2018 PGA Professional Championship, earning a berth in this PGA. The touring pro, of course, is a staple at golf’s biggest tournaments and plays the game on TV.
One name. Twice the fun.
“I always knew there was another one,” TOUR pro Johnson said. “I’d see his name in the back of Golf Week and other magazines, where they list the tournament results.”
Naturally, the presence of two Zach Johnsons here has resulted in some confusion.
“Half of these autographs, they think I’m the other Zach Johnson,” said the grinning club pro.
Not that he minded. The winner of the 2013 Utah Open, he is savoring this PGA Championship, his first TOUR start of any kind. As the crowd thinned late Tuesday, he lingered behind the 18th green, where he gave away his sweaty glove, smiled for every photo, inked every autograph.
Finally, he ran out of golf balls to give away and hats to sign.
“Is everybody good?” he asked.
“Nice job,” a parent said.
“Thanks,” Johnson said.
The other Zach Johnson, by the way, is also good with autographs. If they didn’t know about each other before, it became impossible not to in 2009, when club pro Johnson was sent the other one’s scorecards and a plaque from the Sony Open in Hawaii. The club pro opened it; realized the mistake; took photos and had a laugh; then sent the package to its rightful Zach Johnson.
Club pro Zach Johnson even got a few of TOUR pro Zach Johnson’s e-mails, years ago.
In 2015, alerted to the prospect of another Zach Johnson potentially making the PGA field, the famous Johnson tweeted, “The more Zach Johnson’s in the field, the better!” Utah’s Johnson didn’t make it that year, but he has now, which led to Wednesday’s photo op on the range, and, in family dining Monday, the very first meeting of the Zach Johnsons.
“It was an awesome meeting,” TOUR pro Johnson said. “I was there with a buddy, and he was there with his family. It was good to finally meet the other one. He’s a super nice guy.”
“He was very cool about it,” club pro Johnson said. “I just walked up and said, ‘I have to introduce myself. I apologize for all the crap you’ve had to take for sharing the name.’ We laughed about it. He came over and introduced himself to my family. He was great.”
In an attempt to keep things straight at Bellerive, the PGA of America told club pro Johnson he would be using his middle initial here, as in Zach J. Johnson.
What does the J stand for?
“Nothing, but it really is on his birth certificate,” said his father, Charlie, who with Johnson’s mother, LuAnn, wife, Kaitie, and 3-year-old son, George, made the trip from Utah.
“So you’re Z-J squared,” TOUR pro Johnson said of the mysterious J.
Not that the initial has clarified much. Charlie keeps hearing people say, “That’s not the real Zach Johnson.” And a fan asked on Twitter whether it was wise for TOUR pro Johnson to switch to TaylorMade clubs right before a major.
“Wrong Zach Johnson,” TOUR pro Johnson tweeted back. “There are two of us this week … not kidding.”
A local journalist interviewed club pro Johnson for a good five minutes earlier this week when the conversation took an ominous turn toward all the golf he’d played with Adam Scott.
Johnson stopped the conversation and explained the mix-up.
“Trust me,” he said, “I disappoint a lot of people.”
Well, yes and no. He isn’t disappointing all those young kids at Bellerive, chirping like gulls as they thrust their merchandise over the metal gates and nylon ropes. He’s soaking it up as he signs, takes selfies, and asks his caddie, fellow Davis Park assistant pro Taylor Laybourne, if they have anything left in the bag to give away.
“He’s a great sport about it,” Laybourne said. “To see everyone from kids to adults thinking he’s THE Zach Johnson, getting his autograph, going, ‘Oh, I’m a huge fan! I’ve been following you for years!’ He just smiles. Zach is the most-humble human being I’ve ever known.
“I get goose-bumps, because there are not too many other guys that are more deserving of this and who could handle this type of confusion,” Laybourne said. “He’s my best friend. When he asked me to do this, I told him he’s crazy, he needs a real caddie. He said, ‘No, screw that. Let’s go have fun.’”