An Interview With: ZACH JOHNSON
KELLY ELBIN: Zach Johnson of the United States, joining us at the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club. This will be Zach's third Ryder Cup, his overall record 3-3-1.
Zach, welcome back to the Ryder Cup. Comments on how things went today and the setup from what you've seen here at Medinah.
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, today was great, certainly the most amount of people I've ever seen in a practice round. It sure seemed like it anyway. It was great. They're already getting anxious for Friday, much like we are.
I thought Medinah we heard some things over the last few months about the summer, and I know the Midwest has had a bit of a heat streak, so it didn't help the golf course any, but you wouldn't notice.
I think the superintendent here has done a tremendous job, and his staff for that matter, of getting it in great shape. It might be spotty in some areas, but that's being petty. Greens are perfect.
I've always said it doesn't matter where you play this tournament, but when you have a pretty majestic golf course like this one, it makes it pretty special. Medinah is going to be great, it's going to be a great test, and I'm excited to get it going.
Q. Keegan was in here earlier, and he made reference to the rough, and he compared it to Augusta National, the first cut. I wonder if you would concur with that and how you think that's going to affect the style of play throughout the week.
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I would concur. It's similar. I don't know what the actual length is relative to the Augusta rough.
The fairways here are a little tighter than Augusta fairways, so there is probably a bigger difference from fairway to intermediate cut. But yeah, I think that's a pretty fair comparison.
I think it's just going to be you can be more aggressive. If you miss a shot what's good for me, I guess in a sense, I think it really helps the bombers. You can't deny that.
But what's good for me is when I miss fairways, it typically lands in the fairway and scoots out, or scoots into the rough, so I'm missing by a foot, maybe two or three yards, and now I can play out of that.
The heaviest rough every week, especially in majors, is the first yard to three or four yards in the rough. If you miss it, you almost want to miss it big, and I don't miss shots big because I don't hit it big.
And I think that's kind of what I think is going to be helpful for me. But once again, I mean, I was talking to some of our guys, and they're going to be hitting a lot of drivers, but we can. And there's no fear in hitting those drivers.
Around the greens, it's going to be easier to get it up and down because it's just not as thick. You can generate some spin, thus some control, but you've still got to hit crisp shots. I don't think it's to anyone's advantage. Everyone is playing the same golf course. I just think it provides maybe a little bit lower scoring opportunities.
Q. In '08, Zinger specifically set up Valhalla with little rough because he wanted a lot of birdies. He figured the home crowd gets excited about that sort of thing. Do you see a very similar scenario playing out this week?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I didn't play in '08. So I don't know specifically, but I watched it on TV certainly, and yeah, I think it's probably comparable. Is it the exact same? I don't have any idea.
But is the thought process behind it similar? Probably. You know, I don't I think that's probably what you want. If you're a home team, you want to get the crowd on your side early, but bottom line is if it's made or cut for birdies, it's made or cut for birdies for both teams, so we've still got to putt. Fortunately for me we've still got to putt.
Q. What's the atmosphere like around the first tee here? I mean, the grandstands look pretty large. How do they compare to other Ryder Cups or just major events?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I don't know as far as the size goes relative to other Ryder Cups. I never really did get a measurement and picture in my head. But very comparable as far as number of people from what I can tell, loud, boisterous, excited fans. It's like its own little stadium right there, you know? There's going to be thousands and thousands of people on one tee box to start this week off and to end this week.
You know, I've had some pretty cool, unique experiences on those first tee boxes over the years, and all the Cups specifically, the two Ryder Cups across the pond, and I expect this one to probably trump those just because it's my home nation.
Q. Can you share one or two of those experiences?
ZACH JOHNSON: Sure, yeah, I'll give you one, and it's the one that comes to my mind immediately, and that was my Sunday singles match in '06 at The K Club in Ireland.
I played pretty good the three matches going into that, and I was paired up against so I was pretty confident, and got paired up against Darren Clarke, which I think was four to eight weeks removed from the death of his wife, in his home nation. That was pretty emotional. I mean, certainly way more for him and his fans.
But just to be a part of that or associated with that was pretty emotional. It's a match you don't want to play, but at the same time he wanted to play for all the right reasons, and Darren is a good friend, and I enjoy playing with him, and witnessed a pretty awesome mental, I guess, mentality that he had that week and certainly that match. He played awesome, made yards of putts and came out on top.
But the first tee there was bellowing, deep, bass, loud. I've never heard anything like that on the first tee.
Q. As I recall, 1999 you were here as a spectator when Woods and Garcia had their dual, and of course you played in '06 and now you're back with Woods and Garcia among the teammates and competitors. Can you talk about just kind of the journey and how Medinah is kind of enter woven in your career?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think the first big tournament I went to was the 1996 U.S. Open, Oakland Hills in Detroit, and then the next one would have been the 1999 right here, the PGA.
The big difference right now is that I'm dropped off right here rather than having to parkway out yonder and getting shuttled in. That's one big difference. And the other big difference would be that I'm actually inside the ropes this time.
But yeah, I had some fond memories of walking these grounds with some family and friends and witnessing some golf shots. I remember following a couple groups, I remember following Nick Price; I remember following Sergio down the stretch. I was actually maybe 12 feet from that tee when he hit that shot on 16, maybe. I mean, it was paces, three or four paces from him hitting that shot.
So those are the kind of things that I do remember. That, and I remember the golf course just being big, big trees, big just a big golf course.
Whether or not it helped me, I have no idea. It certainly made me hungry because I wanted to be on that stage, but I don't know if it necessarily helped tremendously. I just was a fan then still am a fan, but it's nice to be here playing.
Q. Brandt Snedeker, he's a guy who a lot of people say is good in the teammate, and also his personality. Is he somebody that all you guys are happy for, to see him succeed?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I don't think there's anybody that's not happy for Sneds. Good guy, great guy. He's also had two hip surgeries in two years, so he's overcome a lot. It's pretty remarkable actually, I think. He's a happy go lucky guy, but he's also fiery inside. He works, he wants it, he works hard, and we witnessed that in the Playoffs; not just last week in Atlanta, but I think coming down the stretch he played a number of tournaments to try to get on this team, and Davis selected him, and for good measure, I think.
He certainly so far has proved to Davis that he belongs here. I mean, there's no one on the team that's going to say that he doesn't belong here, because he does. I think everybody does. You don't have to justify anyone on this team. Sneds is a really good guy.
Q. If I'm not mistaken, you've had six partners in six Ryder Cup paired matches over the course of your career. Am I mistaken?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah. That's okay.
Q. Question withdrawn.
ZACH JOHNSON: Okay. I played with Hunter both matches in 2010.
Q. Last week Jason Dufner said he'd like to be paired with you in the matches. Do you have any thoughts about that possible pairing from your perspective?
ZACH JOHNSON: Sure. I'd love to play with Jason. I mean, our games are pretty similar. I don't know if it's going to happen, but our games are pretty similar, similar golf ball, similar approach to the game, similar, just, I'd say mindset.
We've played a lot with each other. We've kind of come through the ranks together a little bit. I think he kind of jumped back and forth a few more times, but for the most part we've gone the same road, same path, and he's really starting to surface now over the last two years I'd say.
But no, I'd love to play with Duf if it happens.
Q. Speaking of people that you're comfortable with, for those who look at this sort of thing, there seem to be a lot of sort of similar personalities paired out there today. I wonder if we should read anything into that and if you expect to go out in the same foursomes tomorrow?
ZACH JOHNSON: I don't know if it's a personality meshing. I think it's a friendship meshing. We're really trying to figure out who is going to play with who.
Granted, Davis is going to be the ultimate say in that, and the assistant captains. But he doesn't want to make anybody uncomfortable, either. I don't think it was too shocking that you saw Tiger and Stricker playing together, and Keegan and Phil playing together, and Bubba and Webb playing together. Are they going to play together? I mean, I would assume about, but I don't have any idea. That's just assumptions.
But outside of that, I mean, Davis did ask a lot of us who we wanted to be paired with and who we didn't want to be paired with, and I think I don't think anybody put down that they didn't want to be paired with anybody. They weren't it doesn't matter is my point. We're all professionals. If he feels it's best for said player to play with said player, then we're going to do it. That's just the bottom line.
But like I said, we want to be comfortable and we want to maybe play some practice rounds with the guys that we think we might play with just to maybe hit their golf ball or just talk to them a little bit and see how they approach things. But there's really no major strategy involved I don't think. It's still golf.
Q. What do you recall from your first ever Ryder Cup tee shot?
ZACH JOHNSON: I can't remember if I hit it. I played in foursomes with Chad Campbell. Did I hit the first tee shot?
KELLY ELBIN: You played Padraig and Paul McGinley.
ZACH JOHNSON: He teed off on 18, so I teed off on one. Yeah, I did. I did, hit into intermediate cut at K Club down the right side, water was left. We made a par. I do remember. I just didn't want to go left, and I was very nervous.
I've heard stories about guys going to the first tee in foursomes in particular saying I'm going to tee off the even you're going to tee off the odd, and then they change because one is so nervous. I like nerves. I'm not saying I love them, but I enjoy it. I like getting up and having to execute and hit shots under difficult circumstances.
KELLY ELBIN: Zach Johnson, thank you very much.
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