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Zach Johnson Reflects on His 2015 British Open Victory

Behind the Scenes of Zach Johnson's GOLF Cover Shoot
Reigning British Open champ Zach Johnson is on the April 2016 cover of GOLF. Go behind the scenes of the shoot with photographer Kohjiro Kinno.

He's not always this relaxed. Just ask Jordan and Louis, who watched a laser-focused Zach Johnson raise the Claret Jug last year. The defending Open champ talks pressure putts, Hall of Fame hopes and the misstep that fueled his big win.

I always play the John Deere the week before the Open, then arrive for the British on Monday. When I got to Scotland last year, I was upset. I felt like I gave away the Deere. I didn't birdie 14, a drivable par 4. I didn't birdie the reachable par-5 17th. And I had a 15-footer on 18 that would have got me in a playoff, but it lipped out. I was angry. [Johnson finished a stroke out of the playoff won by Jordan Spieth.]

Most years at the Open, I take my hybrid out of my bag and put in a 3-iron. I can't hit it very high, so it stays down and under the wind. It doesn't spin, and it just goes forever.

There was no omen last year. It was my third Open at the Old Course, and I hadn't had much success. But the wind we had was good for me. It was downwind going out and into us coming back. I can get at more holes when it's downwind, like the fifth, a par 5 that I can reach easily.

I had some luck. We had a rain delay Thursday, and I shot 6-under in really hard, windy conditions. But I didn't get the worst of the weather, and I was fortunate to be able to finish my second round on Friday.

People forget this: I had Saturday off. A lot of guys were still finishing their second rounds, but I didn't hit a shot. I slept in, worked out, watched movies, spent time with my wife, and only practiced for about 45 minutes. That day of rest was nice.

Photo:

Zach Johnson became a two-time major champ at last year's Open.

I played really well Sunday, my third round, but scored terribly. I hit every green through 13 and was even. I three-putted once. It could have gone the other way, but I righted the ship, making three birdies and a bogey coming in for a 70.

The 66 on Monday was one of the best rounds I've ever played, but the course was gettable, especially going out downwind. I was 7-under through 12, and Marc Leishman and a couple others behind me were playing well, too. I didn't think the weather was harsh. Of course, coming back into the wind was not easy—hence the bogeys on 13 and 17. But I bounced back with a birdie on 18.

That birdie putt on the 72nd hole was big, but at the time it was an unknown. I was thinking playoff at best. The putt on the first hole of the playoff with Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen was huge. Louis had just made his putt. It was match play, in a way. I was just past pin-high, about 12 feet. It was one of the biggest putts I've ever made.

Jordan and I were friends before he even won his first Tour event. When he won the Masters, I was there to give him a hug before he even signed his card. [After I won the British], he came back to the course to congratulate me. I was in the pro shop to get something for a friend, and the scoring area is right there. We flew back together, too. There were seven of us on the charter: Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker, Billy Horschel, Harris English, Jordan and myself.

After I won the British Open, Will Ferrell sent me a really nice text message. Earlier that week, we'd had dinner together—it was Friday night at a hotel restaurant in St. Andrews, with our wives, the Furyks, the Leonards and the Mickelsons. My wife said, "We're going out to eat with some people," and I said okay—and then I'm sitting next to Will Ferrell! Anyway, his text told me he'd only been to two majors in his life—that Open and my "07 Masters win. He said he's good luck for me. [Laughs]

I got a lot of tweets from people who made money on me. I was under the radar heading into the Open last year. And after I won, well, the radar was going bonkers.

Photo:

Zach Johnson with wife wearing green jacket and holding Claret Jug under oak tree at the 2016 Masters.

If I get overlooked, that's people's prerogative. My record speaks for itself. I've been told the Hall of Fame protocol, but I don't know—I've still got a lot of years to play. That's the last thing on my mind.

I actually don't mind driving on the other side of the road, given the opportunity. But they don't give us courtesy cars at the Open. They have great transportation.

Where has the Claret Jug been? Where hasn't it been? It's been on the field of Kinnick Stadium at the University of Iowa. It's going to go back to my alma mater, at Drake. It's been on the dining room table of everyone on my team. It's had some wine and beer in it. My brother's put some bourbon in it, or scotch or whatever. [Laughs] I don't know what all it's had in it. And it met the green jacket [in April]. I think they were smitten.

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