Zach Johnson on incident at Colonial: 'It's a very uneventful story'

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Zach Johnson on incident at Colonial: 'It's a very uneventful story'

PGA Tour

Zach Johnson on incident at Colonial: 'It's a very uneventful story'

ERIN, Wis. – With Erin Hills listed at 7,741 yards, is this week’s U.S. Open too big a ballpark for the short-hitting Zach Johnson? He harbors no concerns.

While the first-time Open track comes in at that mammoth yardage, Johnson doesn’t view the layout as a bomber’s paradise. These fairways play firm and fast, shrinking that yardage quickly. It seems precision and short game, two Johnson hallmarks, are paramount at Erin Hills.

“You have to drive the ball in the fairway,” Johnson said. “And I think this place does put an emphasis on creativity around the greens with your short game. It should, it is the U.S. Open.”

Johnson, 41, enters the year’s second major in a relative stasis in his game. Following consecutive missed cuts in April, Johnson has managed to make the weekend in his last four starts. But a T-18 at the Wells Fargo Championship is his only finish better than 40th in that span.

The Cedar Rapids native isn’t fretting, though. His fundamentals remain solid and he’s been working to piece his technique back into top form. Johnson, a two-time major champion, said the focus in this regard is rhythm-based and while his technique remains a work in progress, the grind is paying dividends.

“I’m getting it back to at least a manageable state,” Johnson said.

His recent results don’t fully show it, but Johnson is also getting more acclimated to his bag. During the week of the Honda Classic in late February, Johnson cracked the head on his driver. It took several weeks, but he got comfortable with a new one.

Another factor in Johnson’s favor? Erin Hills plays to his strategic mind. Johnson said shot selection and getting correct lines will be key, as the course has the ability to rotate tee boxes and the ever-present wind can swirl in different directions. With this course being so new for many players, there’s many nuances still to uncover. There’s also the fact that options abound around the greens, as putters and hybrids could be used to move the ball up slopes just as much as wedges.

The course’s length itself, oddly, may not be much of a factor. Fellow PGA Tour pro Kevin Kisner said he’d heard horror stories about the course’s length and brutality, but the hype hasn’t met that legend).

Almost two inches of rain pounded the layout Monday evening and more came Tuesday morning – leading to a delay in practice-round tee times. That deluge could be a factor that plays into a lengthening of the course, putting shorter hitters like Johnson (130th on the PGA Tour in driving distance) at a disadvantage. He hopes that won’t be the case.

“If we get more saturation, more rain, does it feed into the guys that hit it a long way? Well, for sure, but that doesn’t matter where you play,” Johnson said. “You can tell this place is best firm and fast, and hopefully we don’t get any more rain.”

Johnson is looking to build off a T-8 finish at last year’s U.S. Open, with the 2017 tilt being played in the Midwest. The firm and fast Erin Hills he’s hoping for fits his eye, and his mind is in a better place than many might think.

Last month at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, an act of Johnson’s went viral. A fan snapped a mid-round photo of Johnson walking back to his bag with his clubs strewn on the ground nearby. The fan noted on Twitter that Johnson had suffered “a major meltdown” after being put on the clock.

Johnson countered the following day, tweeting that his putter was stuck in the bag and he “yanked it out,” forcing many other clubs to come out.

Johnson said Tuesday that the incident was blown way out of proportion. It wasn’t a “meltdown,” and his caddie, Damon Green, didn’t even know that Johnson dumped his clubs from the bag until Johnson showed him the photo. The 41-year-old added that his friends were pretty disappointed in the truth.

“It’s a very uneventful story, and one that (my friends) aren’t very happy about,” Johnson said. “They wanted there to be more drama. There’s zero drama.”

Johnson is hoping for at least a little drama, the being-in-contention variety, at Erin Hills. It was just two years ago he captured his second major at the Open Championship at St. Andrew.

What’s most on Johnson’s mind as he prepares for Erin Hills? Making sure his middle-aged body is up to speed.

“Rest and just being ready for a 72-hole grind are key because this course is like 9.5 miles,” Johnson said. “At 41 years old, you’ve just got to be ready physically.”

Golfweek staff writer Jeff Babineau contributed to this report.

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