HONOLULU — Zach Johnson sat in the interview room at the Sony Open on Wednesday answering questions about his game and, of course, the Ryder Cup.
During the interview, a discussion about Tiger Woods came up: Would Johnson make the G.O.A.T. part of the 12-man team traveling to Rome in September?
“I would only contemplate having him on the team if he was putting up some numbers and some scores, No. 1, showing some sign of being competitive,” the Ryder Cup captain said. “And then No. 2, that discussion would be had with the other guys that are a part of that team, and specifically him (Woods).”
Johnson then assured the room that Woods was extremely invested—“I can’t speak that enough”—and added “from all accounts, and we’re communicating with him quite a bit, actually trying to get a phone call here shortly, nothing of any substance.
“He’s a part of the team. It’s just a matter of to what degree.”
Johnson is a graduate of Drake University, a small midwestern school in Des Moines, Iowa, without much of a golf pedigree.
And here is this Drake grad, not even the best player on the team when he played in college, waiting for a call from Woods to just basically chit-chat about Ryder Cup.
That is mindblowing and at the same time, that is golf and Johnson has earned that right over his 19 years on the PGA Tour.
Johnson came to the PGA Tour as basically an unknown and even with a win in his first season on Tour in 2004 at the BellSouth Classic, Johnson had to claw his way up the ladder as an elite player.
“I love difficult situations,” Johnson said. “I love being uncomfortable. I love proving everything wrong. It’s just the way I’m built, the way I’m wired.”
Johnson’s wiring has produced 12 wins, including a Masters and British Open.
Clearly one of the extraordinary overachievers in professional golf history, Johnson’s level of tenacity will serve him and the U.S. team well in Rome in September.
“I want you to bring your ego,” Johnson said of how he wants his 12 team members to approach the Ryder Cup, just as he did the five times he donned the red, white and blue. “There is a reason why you’re on the PGA Tour and probably had some success. Ego has a negative connotation, but there is a healthy cockiness, confidence that we all have to have. I think the best players in the world have that.”
For Johnson, a U.S. Ryder Cup victory on foreign soil is 30 years in the making, with the last U.S. victory overseas coming at The Belfry in 1993.
Johnson drew his first Ryder Cup breath in 2006, when the U.S. was trounced by the Europeans 18.5 to 9.5 at The K Club in Ireland.
It was the beginning of a stretch of four consecutive losses for Johnson—in 2010 in Wales, 2012 at Medinah and 2014 in Scotland.
Not until 2016, his last Ryder Cup as a player at Hazeltine National, did Johnson taste victory in a 17-11 U.S. blowout.
That last Ryder Cup for Johnson as a player was the outgrowth of a new process, a process that empowered the players and created more communications and transparency.
It’s a formula that worked in 2016 and again in 2020 in Wisconsin, and for the Presidents Cups over the same period.
“I would say the continuity we have from Cup to Cup to Cup to Cup right now is something I’m very impressed with and grateful for,” Johnson said. “I think it kind of started six, seven years ago, but just because we have continuity, and some sort of system does not mean it’s foolproof and results in wins.”
Johnson made it abundantly clear that he can still screw it up, no matter the process, formula, template or system in place.
At 46, Johnson is interested in making his own team and while he didn’t commit to playing if he did make the team on points, he did say “it would be a really great problem.”
A problem that no other captain has had to address since 1963, when Arnold Palmer was the last playing captain for a U.S. team that won 23-9 in Atlanta.
“I’m a golfer first, so I want to play good golf,” said Johnson, who is on the cusp of a World Hall of Fame bid. “I want to win golf tournaments, and I would love to make my team and not play. So that is a priority. In order to do that though, a lot of work has to be done.”
Currently, Johnson has not earned a point on the Ryder Cup points list, so he has a lot of work to do to gain one of the six automatic spots.
“I’m looking forward to that,” Johnson said of working to be his best this year. “I think the beauty of where I am right now is that my body is still good and I can still go out and play a full schedule and still maintain other responsibilities. So that’s a pretty unique posture.”
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