HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Between chats with presidential contender Barack Obama and late-night talk show host David Letterman, Masters champion Zach Johnson barely has had time to swing a golf club since slipping on the green jacket.
And that’s one of the biggest reasons Johnson chose to tee it up at the Verizon Heritage instead of taking a well-deserved rest.
“For whatever reason, when you’re inside the ropes, it kind of feels normal,” Johnson said Wednesday.
Very little has been normal for the unassuming Iowan since his two-stroke victory at Augusta National over Tiger Woods, Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini.
Johnson didn’t leave the Augusta National grounds until 11:30 p.m. Sunday. He flew to New York the next morning for a media blitz that included ESPN, CNN, “Live With Regis and Kelly” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
When he’s bold enough to turn his phone on, it’s “beyond crazy,” Johnson said.
There was the congratulatory call from his home state’s chief executive, Gov. Chet Culver. Johnson also got a message from a fellow Regis High alum, former NFL MVP Kurt Warner. As much as he’d like to, Johnson hasn’t had time to return the good wishes from them or anyone else.
“I listened to every one of them, read every one of them and appreciate all the congratulatory words and notes,” he said.
Johnson thought about skipping the Hilton Head tournament, which every Masters winner has done since Vijay Singh followed his Augusta National triumph with a trip to Harbour Town in 2000.
But Johnson didn’t want to reneg on his commitment. Playing, he said, was a respite from his new-found fame.
“I don’t particulary care for the limelight at all,” Johnson said.
The adulation probably won’t let up for a while.
Fans at Wednesday’s pro-am crowded around the first tee as Johnson’s group stepped up. “Please give welcome to the 2007 Masters champion, professional Zach Johnson,” the starter yelled. The fans clapped and snapped pictures.
“Where’s the green jacket?” one fan shouted as Johnson smiled.
He graciously signed golf caps, posters and badges between holes. No Masters winner has paired the Heritage’s tartan coat with a green jacket since Bernhard Langer in 1985.
The good feelings for Johnson weren’t limited to those outside the ropes.
Five-time Heritage winner Davis Love III says Johnson’s Harbour Town locker was stuffed with items for his signature or congratulatory letters.
Johnson’s win is popular among PGA Tour pros “because he’s a popular guy,” Love said.
Love has parked his motor home beside Johnson’s at times and seen up close the younger player’s steady, hard-working approach. “It’s nice to see that pay off,” he said.
Plus, “Zach proved last week that Tiger doesn’t win every time he plays,” Love said.
Johnson won’t change his approach to the game — or life — no matter how the rest of the world views him. “I wouldn’t know how to change. Personally, I mean, I really wouldn’t,” he said.
Johnson barely could sleep Sunday night — partly because of his thrilling win and partly because he and his wife, Kim, have a 3-month-old.
Defending Verizon Heritage champion Aaron Baddeley, part of a weekly Bible study group that includes Johnson, doesn’t expect success to spoil his level-headed friend. “He’s just as true as they come,” Baddeley said.
Still, Johnson has enjoyed his recent splash in the spotlight.
The most surreal moment, he said, came before Letterman’s show Monday when Obama came to Johnson’s dressing room. Obama “introduced himself, said he was a huge fan,” Johnson gushed.
“Very nice man, very young,” said Johnson, who is 31.
Johnson’s appearance on Letterman was limited to reading a top-10 list of “Things I Can Say Now That I’ve Won the Masters.” One of the highlights was No. 6, “Even I’ve never heard of me.”