When Zach Johnson made a seemingly meaningless birdie at the end of a nondescript fourth round in last September’s Deutsche Bank Championship, it enabled him to finish mere points ahead of Webb Simpson and nail down the 10th and final automatic spot on the Presidents Cup team.
Simpson, however, got a nod for one of two captain’s picks.
We’ll never know for sure, but the guess is, had Johnson not made that birdie and thus fell to 11th in the standings, he would not have gotten a captain’s pick, likely passed over for Jordan Spieth and Jim Furyk.
It’s just the way things work in Johnson’s world.
Heck, the man wins in convincing fashion against stellar competition and on a stage that is seemingly too big for him – and the next day there are stories that suggest we not go overboard, that the Hyundai Tournament of Champions doesn’t morph Johnson into being a major-championship favorite, or that you need to closely examine how his recent wins have come against smaller fields.
All of which sort of proved Damon Green’s point, stated a day earlier in the aftermath of Johnson’s latest triumph. The veteran caddie said his boss is underappreciated and carelessly overlooked. That he’s not a major favorite was not the point to take home from what Johnson did in Maui; that he outplayed a player with far more power (Dustin Johnson), a young phenom with far more sizzle (Jordan Spieth), a Masters champ (Adam Scott), a ball-striking talent (Jason Dufner), and a birdie machine (Webb Simpson) was surely cause for applause, no?
Even a little? Even for a day?
If you think not, if you think it’s more appropriate to translate Johnson’s success in another way, then join the crowd. Because it appears that no matter what Zach Johnson does, there will be doubters. So while he ranks as the No. 7 player in the world, his 11 wins since 2004 surpassed by only a trio of behemoths (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh), Johnson is accustomed to being considered an after-thought, the definitive underdog.
“That kind of stuff? It just fuels me, because I love – for the lack of a better term and a cliche – the David and Goliath kind of things.”
Good thing he does, because it appears for certain that Johnson will never be embraced as a leading man – even though he’s been the leading man at tournament’s end at least once in each of the last eight seasons.
Ignore that if you want – and many will – but Johnson certainly has the respect of his colleagues. “We know how good he is,” Brandt Snedeker said. “He stays with what he does well and that’s fun to watch.”
At 37, Johnson is a remarkable PGA Tour success story, an unheralded player out of Drake University who toiled on the Hooters Tour for years. He was 28 when he broke onto the PGA Tour – and he won in just his ninth start. Hey, it took Spieth until his 16th PGA Tour start to win in his 2013 rookie season. Woods? He didn’t win until his eighth start.
Which isn’t to suggest that Johnson should be mentioned in the same breath as Woods. Of course he shouldn’t. And, sure, Spieth could very well roar past any of Johnson’s achievements. But the point is, how about a round of applause for what Johnson has accomplished without trying to take the shine off of his latest win simply because he isn’t a power broker or a young, hip star with a flashy look.
“I’m going to try to keep things as simple as possible,” Johnson said. “I’m going to try to keep doing what I’m doing.”
That he’s going on stage without the massive firepower that is so prevalent in today’s game is remarkable. But when you factor in that he’s won on some of the biggest ballparks on Tour (the Plantation Course, the old TPC Sugarloaf, Augusta National) while mastering the cozy confines of Waialae CC and Colonial CC, as well, it is virtually impossible to ignore that he is deserving of more praise and greater recognition – not ignorance.
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GMAC ON HIS ‘A’ GAME: Reacting to the news that he had been voted to receive an award by the Golf Writers Association of America for accessibility and cooperation with the media, Graeme McDowell pretty much hit it out of the park and validated why he won the honor.
“I fully appreciate how tough the industry has become for our media colleagues in recent years, since the advent of the digital and social media age,” McDowell said. “Yet our golf writers have continued to travel the globe promoting everything that is great about the game of golf.
“Their hard work and dedication to their craft is hugely appreciated by myself and my fellow players around the world.”
Ought to be bulletin-board material in every PGA Tour locker room.
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WOULD YOU LIKE WINE WITH YOUR 3-WOOD? Extra weight is the last thing a caddie wants in the golf bag when traversing the massive elevation changes of the Plantation Course. Yet, there was Kip Henley trying to figure our why Brian Gay’s bag seemed heavier than usual.
Playing a PGA Tour event for the first time since the Mayakoba Classic in late November, Gay checked his bag and then Henley did also. It still felt heavier so Henley checked again, this time unzipping a pocket he hadn’t previously looked at. He discovered a bottle of wine.
“A red cabernet,” Henley said.
As luck would have it, Gay’s wife, Kimberly, was walking along in the gallery, so she took the wine to lighten Henley’s load. Fitting, too, because Kimberly had been the one to put the wine in there, last November when they were packing to leave the Mayakoba.
“It was good wine, and obviously it was in a safe place and in good hands,” she said.
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IT WILL REMAIN UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY: Speaking of caddies, it turns out that Waialae Country Club will stay on the list of courses where Steve Williams has never worked. Williams will return to New Zealand for a big auto race this weekend and thus he won’t be working Adam Scott’s bag at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
The Sony Open, of course, is one of those tournaments Tiger Woods never took part in, and Scott hasn’t played it since he joined with Williams in 2011. It would have been interesting to see Williams at work at an unfamiliar golf course – especially one that presents such intriguing shots – but, alas, racing got in the way.
Scott will employ a longtime friend who happens to be hanging out with him on this Hawaiian swing.
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HOME SWEET HOME, EVENTUALLY: Jonas Blixt moved into the circle of PGA Tour security thanks to victories in each of the last two seasons. But the move into a house not far from PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.? It came courtesy of his desire to add stability to his life.
Blixt said he’s in Jacksonville Beach for several years and feels comfortable in that area. There’s the added fact that he often practices at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. “It just made sense.”
It did not come without its stress, however, because in an effort to get things squared away before going to Sweden for a few days, Blixt bought the house in November, took two days to move in, then went back home to visit family and friends. Actually, it will be a few more weeks before he is able to enjoy the house, because Blixt stayed in Maui right after the Hyundai, then he’ll head to Southern California for a few days to test some new equipment.
He’ll play the Humana, the Farmers Insurance Open, and the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
And then he’ll go to his new home?
Maybe, but there’s also the matter of having his visa renewed, and Blixt has settled on a February trip to Costa Rica where he and his brother will combine that duty with a few days of sun and fun.
Costa Rica? For a U.S. visa? Seems curious and Blixt said it was to him, too, but he knows it’s a legitimate way to go and so Costa Rica here he comes.
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DOUBLE TROUBLE? He has every intention of giving it a go, but Blixt understands it’s not going to be easy to maintain memberships on both the American and European tours.
The 29-year-old will continue to focus on the American tour, but he’ll try for the first time to also satisfy the European required minimum of 13 starts. A key is the majors and World Golf Championships as there are four of each; unfortunately for Blixt, he’s presently only qualified for three of the majors (Masters, U.S. Open, PGA) and the only WGC he can feel sure about is the Accenture Match Play Championship.
“I’ve got to stay in the top 50,” said Blixt, No. 42 in the Official World Golf Ranking. “That’s a key.”
He doesn’t foresee going over to Europe until sometime in late May. How many tournaments he chases back home depends on how the Swede does in getting into the WGCs and even the Open Championship (he’d have to be to 50 by late May). Blixt is aware of the dangers that lurk by pushing to have dual memberships.
“You can put a lot of miles and a lot of wear and tear,” he said, “and you can be more prone to injuries.”
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FANCY MEETING YOU HERE: Maui isn’t exactly the halfway point between Chicago and the Marshall Islands, but, hey . . . it’s Maui. You can’t blame Bryan Rusin and his folks for making it work.
That Rusin’s rendezvous with family members coincided with a chance to have an impromptu high school reunion with Kevin Streelman made the trip to Kapalua even sweeter for Rusin, a native of the Chicago area who played college golf at the University of Illinois. More than a year ago, Rusin and his wife and young daughter moved from Illinois to the Marshall Islands in the northern Pacific, where he took a teaching job at the Majuoro Cooperative School.
When his parents, who still live in Illinois, proposed a holiday meeting place, it was easy for Rusin to settle on a location. All of them are friendly with Mike Jones, the director of golf at the Kapalua Golf Resort and an Illinois guy, also, and so they made the trips – the parents coming from more than 4,000 miles, Rusin and his wife and daughter from about 2,500.
“Good deal for me,” Rusin said, though it got even better when he discovered that Streelman was in the field. They played on the golf team at Wheaton Warrenville South High School in Wheaton, Ill., with Streelman a year ahead of Rusin. Both went on to impressive colleges – Illinois and Duke.
“It was great to see him,” said Streelman, who couldn’t remember if he had run into Rusin since high school. But the two of them and their parents joined Jones for dinner and Streelman was intrigued by his high school friend’s present occupation and locale.
“How cool is that?” asked Streelman, who conceded he wasn’t quite sure where the Marshall Islands are (roughly halfway between Maui and Australia). “But they catch their own dinner right from the ocean. It’s a nice story.”
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RECALLING A GRAND MAN: Occasionally there comes the chance to take a break from the PGA Tour and visit a story that reminds you what is so glorious about this game we love so much. A reminder of that arrived recently with word that William “Sarge” Walsh had passed away at the age of 91 on Dec. 18.
Let’s race a glass of cheer, for he was a genuine treasure.
In May of 2012, Walsh was featured in Golfweek’s amateur edition as one who had devoted so much of his life to golf – from years of competitive play to a stint as president of the Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) to devoted fund-raising efforts on behalf of the J. Wood Platt Scholarship Fund.
That he loved golf was clear, only the game ranked well behind his other passions – his wife, Barbara, his daily trips to church (years earlier, he had entertained thoughts of being a priest), and their 15 children.
Repeat, 15, and when he sat for that story, William Walsh insisted on naming them all, though with a smile he begged for patience.
That the seven boys (Michael, Matthew, Timmy, Danny, Brendan, Chet, and Andrew) were also golf enthusiasts and the eight girls (Stephanie, Minna, Bridget, Monica, Tez, Hilary, Moira, and Lexy) were swimmers are testaments to Walsh’s belief in the value of sports in a young person’s life. But clearly, his love was golf – and what he took the most pride in was the multitude of GAP father-son titles he won with four different sons.
Like his father, Chet Walsh played golf at Villanova. Later he served a stint as ‘Nova’s head golf coach. Brendan Walsh is the well-respected head professional at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
As young boys, Chet and Brendan and their five brothers all had a standing offer from their father, who was a member at both Philadelphia CC and the iconic Pine Valley. The boys could play Pine Valley, but “they had to break 90 at Philadelphia CC – and they had to get a haircut.”
Even at 90, William Walsh played golf – summers in Philadelphia, winters at Tequesta CC in Florida – and championed all the virtues of the game. Let the record show, he served golf well.