The other Johnson: Zach gets his moment above the radar
He’s often confused with the world number one, but ZJ still has two Major titles to his name
Zach Johnson of the US reacts after making birdie on the 18th during the second round of the British Open at Carnoustie. Photograph: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Zach Johnson wears it as a badge of honour, rather than any insult, when golf fans immediately assume it is the other Johnson – as in Dustin, the world number one – who is in contention when the J-word goes atop a leaderboard.
While ZJ successfully plotted a course around the old links, DJ’s fine-tuning was out of sync in his second round and, with a watery finish in the Barry Burn in front of the 18th pretty much summing up his woes, it was the big-hitting 6ft 4in version of the surname who departed for an early flight back across the Atlantic.
The other Johnson – as in Zach, the 5ft 11in version of the golfer – was left behind to do his own thing, which he has been doing with great effect throughout a career that has brought two Major titles – one more than his namesake – and over $44 million in on-course earnings.
I mean, Dustin, and what he has done over the last decade but specifically in the last few years, is very remarkable
The smaller, older Johnson has been confused with the taller, younger Johnson. “I’ve been called Dustin many times. I doubt he’s been called Zach that many times . . . maybe some people do assume when they see the name up there that it’s Dustin, [that’s] a pretty safe assumption.”
The physical resemblance, it must be said, is non-existent. Same goes for their style of games. One bombs it. The other plots a way around. Chalk and cheese, if you will.
On the comparisons between himself and Dustin, Zach’s response was efficient, just like his golf. “I certainly am not the number one player in the world that ends in Johnson. I mean, Dustin, and what he has done over the last decade but specifically in the last few years, is very remarkable. He’s seemed to have played well regardless of geographies, regardless of time of year. So you get what you deserve there.
“But all that being said, I don’t know if I’m under the radar or overlooked, that’s not for me to say. And the comparison of Johnson & Johnson is probably not fair to me or him truthfully. I mean, you’re talking about he’s won one Major, is that right? But I mean, the odds are in his favour for another one at some point.”
Perhaps the odds are in his own favour too, for a third. A second-round 67, carefully crafted to add to his opening 69, gave Z Johnson a midway total of 136, six-under-par, which put him – not DJ – at the business end of affairs. Thing is, as he showed in winning the Claret Jug at St Andrews three years ago, and at the US Masters back in 2007, ZJ knows how to get the job done.
Through this week, he has been staying in a house that has been described as akin to a university frat house. Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Kevin Kisner (who has joined the band of brothers for the first time) are all housed together, something which has become a tradition, while they’ve brought their own chef over with them from the US, along with physiotherapists. Oh, and the football in the back garden!
“This is the third year we’ve done it and it just makes coming over here, the acclimation and all that, so much easier . . . It does make the week significantly easier because of the amenities we have and because I’m with guys I can feed off and vice versa. It’s never a bad thing to bond or hang out, whether you’re competing or not.”
My game lends itself to this championship because my style can play here
There’s an added price tag should any of them win the Claret Jug, though: the private jet home is on the victor. “The agreement was that, if you win, you get the jet so we go home,” explained Johnson, with Kisner and Fowler among those also vying for that particular honour. Spieth took up the tab a year ago.
Johnson’s start to his second round brought a horrible pulled hook. “I hit my worst shot of the day off the first tee box, which was awful,” he admitted. His round started with a bogey but it was like a kick in the rear, a wake-up call. It was his only dropped shot of a round that brought five birdies, the longest a 40-footer on the 18th to provide a true grandstand finish.
“My game lends itself to this championship because my style can play here. I play the holes backwards [in my head]. I take what the course gives me, and I try to execute. Even though you know what you need to do, you’ve still got to hit a good shot. Is there some risk/rewards at times? Or, are you pushing it sometimes? Absolutely.”
Johnson brought the Claret Jug back home himself after 2015, before the frat pack started their bonding sessions. And he sipped from it on Spieth’s jet a year ago. But he’s been around the block too long to allow any thoughts of boarding a plane again with the famous trophy to enter his mind just yet.
“I’ve still got a lot of work to do and I’m not going to take anything for granted . . . but the reverence I have for this championship and specifically that trophy, that Claret Jug, [is huge]. I’m not suggesting that someone [else] doesn’t have a higher reverence for it. But I’d argue with them. I’ve embraced it, and I love it.
“I’m going to go out and fight [for it].”