Oct. 30, 2015
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Zach Johnson was not the No. 1 golfer at Regis High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or at Drake University in Des Moines. But he improved every year until he made it to the Professional Golfers’ Association of America.
Sounds a lot like a University of Iowa football team that was a preseason pick somewhere in the middle of the Big Ten Conference West Division. Johnson now has 12 PGA Tour wins, including two majors, and the Hawkeyes enter the final week of October with a record of 7-0 and ranked 10th in the nation.
“There is something here the coaches have established that is a blue collar work ethic,” Johnson said Friday after addressing the team in the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center. “It’s taking whatever talent comes through these halls and making it bigger and better. There is no ceiling, it’s a matter of how much work and time they put in if they want to achieve what they want to achieve.”
Johnson, who was born in Iowa City and raised in Cedar Rapids, is honorary captain for Saturday’s game against Maryland (2-5 overall, 0-3 Big Ten). He turned professional in 1998 at the age of 22, winning the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, on April 7, 2007, and the Open Championship at St. Andrews, Scotland, on July 20, 2015. Only six players have ever won the Masters and the Open: Johnson, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, and Tiger Woods.
“I was late with everything, but diligently trusting what I was doing, working hard, focusing on the simple, basic fundamentals is what got me through,” Johnson said.
Johnson resides in Georgia but he is a passionate fan of University of Iowa athletics. He said that speaking in front of the Hawkeye football team was one of the most nerve-wracking — but exciting — opportunities in his life.
“There is something special about this team and it’s simple: they are a team. Every part of it is equal and you can see it. Whether somebody goes down with an injury or there is a substitution, they are the epitome of a team. In my world, that’s what I rely on — I rely on my coaches; they each have common goal in mind, but they each have their own role, just like this football team. If they do their job, at the end, success will happen.”
Honorary Football Captain
“I know you guys have met fans, you have seen them, but I question their passion relative to mine,” Johnson said. “To the point where my wife (Kim) sometimes has to sit me down and have a talk with me. It does consume me in the fall, but it’s a good consumption because it’s healthy and I love it.”
He then pointed to quarterback C.J. Beathard and said, “I know you verballed to Ole Miss.” He then pointed to cornerback Greg Mabin and said, “I know you came in as a receiver and then switched to defensive back.”
Johnson picked up golf at the age of 10, but dabbled in all sports, including football. Neighbors referred to him as “Zach, Zach, Quarterback,” but his career on the gridiron didn’t extend to high school. Johnson said he had decent hands but his disdain for getting hit didn’t bode well for playing time.
After every junior high practice or scrimmage, his father would ask how things were going. A sweaty and dirty Johnson answered by fibbing the word “great.”
“I found a mud puddle and rolled in it so it looked like I knew what I was doing,” Johnson admitted.
But there is no denying Johnson’s drive and competitiveness that has made him one of the most successful golfers on the PGA Tour. One reason is because he has enjoyed success without slipping into slumps.
“Whatever happened last week is irrelevant, it’s all about right now,” Johnson said. “My focus is always right now. What can I do right now to hit this shot in an effective manner? It is every round, every hole, every shot — that’s all that really matters.”
Likewise, the Hawkeye football team has found a way to win week after week through the first two months of the season. Johnson credits that success to teamwork.
“There is something special about this team and it’s simple: they are a team,” Johnson said. “Every part of it is equal and you can see it. Whether somebody goes down with an injury or there is a substitution, they are the epitome of a team. In my world, that’s what I rely on — I rely on my coaches; they each have common goal in mind, but they each have their own role, just like this football team. If they do their job, at the end, success will happen.”
Because of his occupation, Johnson travels the world. But regardless of where the function takes him, his thoughts undoubtedly return to the state of Iowa.
“It doesn’t matter where I go on the PGA Tour, whether I’m playing golf or at a function on or off the golf course, there is always somebody from Iowa,” Johnson said. “They usually give me a `Go Hawks!’ It brings me back home and I love it. I am a proud Iowan. It doesn’t matter if I’m in Korea, or at the British Open, or down the street in Moline, it’s everywhere. It is a beautiful thing.”