Zach Johnson: What It Took to Win the Hyundai TOC

Zach Johnson won the 2014 Hyundai Tournament of Champions by one shot over Jordan Spieth. He managed to plot his way around the Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort on Maui, Hawaii, in 19-under par. Not bad for a course that’s supposed to the domain of the long bombers.

I just picked it apart.  I didn’t deviate away from anything that I typically do on the golf course.  It’s fairways and greens for me.  I’m trying to give myself an aggressive look and trusting what I’m doing, remaining patient was the big thing.  Especially after yesterday, it was remaining patient.

Johnson is a very religious man and believes that his faith played a large part in the peace he felt that allowed him to be patient:

The one thing I prayed about this morning was just to have peace out here regardless of the situation, whether I was 5 down or 5 up.  I’m just thankful that I had my family with me.  Thankful that the Lord was with me, and once again, my prayers are certainly going to the Tesoris [and their sick newborn].  That’s where my heart was today and my mind was a lot today.  I just had that perspective. 

Eight of his eleven victories have been come from behind victories. It would seem that would be harder but not today:

I was just comfortable out there.  I don’t know what it was.  I was comfortable yesterday frankly.  I didn’t play that bad.  I didn’t score terrible.  I was probably a little too analytical on the putting green, but today I just tried to be athletic, tried to stay unemotional and remain athletic over my putts.  As a result, you saw a lot go in.  But I had some breaks too.  I would’ve, could’ve, should’ve on a couple.

But you know, today was a grind.  But yet it was also I felt very relaxed.  I felt at ease.  And just that peace that I was telling you about.  I felt just every shot, the outcome was irrelevant.

There is a process to learning how to win out on Tour; it’s different for everybody. And he shared his thoughts about what that was like for him:

Well,  first and foremost, being in contention multiple times helps, because you’re going to fall apart at some point.  You’re not going to win every one of them.  I say being in contention, to me, being in contention is not even necessarily the back nine, but I’d say the last four to six holes, you know, when you’re two back, two up, what have you, that’s being in contention because so much is going to happen [in the stretch run].

So with that being said, I think what I’ve learned in the times that I haven’t come through and I’m in contention, is that I’m not doing what I was doing to get into contention.  So, in other words, just keep doing what you’re doing.  Try not to make the shot any more or less relevant than the next or the previous.

I just think it’s about really just getting down to where your golf ball is in that situation and what do you have in front of you?  Now you’ve got to certainly play your way around and avoid the big mistakes and that kind of stuff, but that’s the same thing you do on Thursday. I just felt like the back nine today was not any different than my back nine on Thursday.  I felt very natural, felt very comfortable.  I felt at peace out there.  There was nothing more than just hitting shots.  It felt great.

As he revealed a couple of weeks ago in “Zach Johnson: Came Ready to Play,” he met with his team of advisers to review the year and chart the course for the new year:

I don’t know if I learned anything different than I have in years previous.  It’s just those team summits really start to magnify and pinpoint aspects that we can really attack in my game.

There’s been years where I’m going I want five to ten extra yards off the tee.  I think that’s going to help.  There have been years where the only focus has been putting.  But now there are about three or four stats that we can kind of cater to with drills, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

My time and effort and energy goes into two or three drills on the putting green, two or three drills on the ball striking, some scrambling, and then that’s it.  The team summit is not a whole lot when it comes to the mental side.  That’s kind of peripheral [the domain of “Dr. Mo].  It’s certainly discussed as well.

It’s just a great way for me to end the year, talk to my guys that I trust and trust me and get somewhat of a direction for the next year or even the next quarter, I guess.  That way we can really get after it.

Together with his amazing win over Tiger in his Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, clearly he’s really gotten after it.

He’s also noticed that there are certain traits and habits that all the good players have. As they rise up the food chain, they narrow their activities to the things they know that work:

It seems to me the best players in the world that I’ve witnessed and watched, they don’t play as much as I have in the past, but when they get to the golf course, they do the same exact thing, and that’s what I’m trying to do.  I’m going to try to keep doing what I’m doing.

But even with this tournament, there were lessons to be learned. On Sunday he shot 74 as compared with Monday’s 66. What was the difference?

Yesterday I got “golfed.”  I didn’t feel like I played that bad yesterday.  I hit two errant tee shots and I didn’t capitalize on some holes.  I three‑putted for par on a hole.  16 bit me.  14 really bit me.  Just two misses that you just cannot have.  I probably got ahead of myself there.  I probably wasn’t present enough.  I was probably thinking too much about the outcome.

I got a text from Dr. Mo that it looked like I was being a little more analytical than I typically am and not athletic enough especially on the putting green, because I had opportunities yesterday, I just didn’t capitalize.  Today I had a lot of opportunities.  Some I did capitalize on, some I didn’t.

But being athletic over the golf ball, especially on the putting green is kind of something that I’m continuing to work on.  I think that was the big difference between yesterday and today.

Who would have thought that it was possible to be athletic in the part of the game that is the most still and quiet?

So these are just some of the ideas that Johnson employs to make himself into the player that he is today. Although he is way better than any of us, he is a good model for us because he is a sort of “everyman” out on Tour. He has worked very hard at honing parts of his game (e.g. wedge play) that give him an advantage in a world of bombers even as we might be able to find a niche in our world.

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