Acclaim still eludes Johnson after TOC victory
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
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 fallen 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 examine closely how his recent victories 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 ballstriking 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 and his 11 victories since 2004 are surpassed by only a trio of behemoths (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh), Johnson is accustomed to being considered an afterthought, 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 never will be embraced as a leading man – even though he’s been the leading man at tournament’s end at least once in seven of the past 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 in 2004 – 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 title 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 onstage without the massive firepower that is so prevalent in today’s game is remarkable. But when you factor in that he has 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 Country Club, site of this week's Sony Open, and Colonial, as well, it is virtually impossible to ignore that he deserves more praise and greater recognition – not ignorance.