Tour Confidential: Is Zach Johnson Hall of Fame Worthy After His Open Win?

July 20, 2015

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Zach Johnson won the British Open in a playoff over Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman at the Old Course at St. Andrews. Johnson shot a final-round 66, topping it off with a birdie on the 72nd hole to get into the playoff, which he won by a stroke. Is Johnson now a bona-fide Hall of Famer? How does this change his legacy?

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): When you factor in the Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups with the two majors and 12 Tour wins, Zach’s a good bet for the Hall.Winning an Open at the Old Course is a game-changer for anyone. This vaulted him to a new level.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I think this victory gets Zach into the Hall, and I’d predict there will be more, and maybe even another major or two. The guy is absolutely nails, and this Open was more challenging than most with the wind blowing balls all around and the lashing rain. That 66 technically only tied Marc Leishman for one of the all-time great bad weather rounds, but Zach’s birdie-birdie start in the playoff puts him over the top.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): The way they’re running the Hall now, Zach would’ve gotten in with one major. He played great, no doubt, and was fortunate someone else didn’t clip him. But there aren’t many two-time major-winners. He is now a cut above the one-timers. And he’s on par with, oh, Andy North and Greg Norman.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): In the modern era, two majors and 12 wins (and counting) pretty much seals his spot in the HOF. But it doesn’t guarantee historic gravitas. Johnson is a very talented grinder who, more important still, has proven that he’s nails in the clutch. But decades from now, are parents going to pause at Johnson’s plaque, summon their sons and daughters to their side and regale with them with tales of an undersized Iowan with wraparound shades and a strong lefthand grip? Not likely.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@EamonLynch): A couple of years ago I described Johnson as a journeyman, a comment I duly retracted. If Monty is in the hall, then Johnson is certainly worthy. He has solidified his reputation as a peashooter who has found a way to win among the cannons who dominate the game. It is fitting that he won his second major on a links course, where firm and fast turf rewards something more than brute force. It serves to highlight just how one dimensional the other majors have become most years.

2. Jordan Spieth’s bid for the Grand Slam ended, with Spieth one shot out of the playoff. Will we remember this week as one that got away from the 21-year-old or should we salute him for his historical accomplishments this season?

RITTER: Well, you have to salute Spieth for taking this Grand Slam run as deep as he did. He had an off round in the Friday-Saturday delay-debacle but still gave himself a chance Sunday. He made a bad double on 8, then responded with back-to-back birdies. Nothing keeps him down for long. If he somehow had a 73rd hole in regulation, he probably would’ve birdied and made the playoff.

MORFIT: I think we have to salute his accomplishments this season for sure, considering that every time he pegs it he either wins or finishes a shot or two out of a playoff. The guy is amazing. I was on the ninth tee when Spieth got there after his four-putt double, and he was none too pleased, but lo and behold he goes birdie-birdie to immediately erase it. He is incredibly clutch and only lost this week because he was not dialed in with his lag putting. Everyone’s entitled to an off week, if you can even call it that.

VAN SICKLE: Spieth was amazing. The shot of the week was that 40-footer he holed at 16, at which time I was sure he was going to pull it out. Five three-putts one day, a four-putt double in the final round and he was still that close. It may be a long time before we see anyone win the first two majors in a year and then make any kind of run in the Open. Spieth made this golf year the most exciting one since Tiger vs. Rocco.

SENS: While Spieth will likely walk away kicking himself for some missed opportunities, everyone else will just be left marveling at how close he came.

LYNCH: Both. He remains the most compelling figure in the game, but this week was a reminder that not everything will break his way each time he’s in the crucible of a major. Spieth will probably remember what might have been — how the Claret Jug could and should have been his. We should remember what we saw — a 21-year-old who handled himself with the same humility in defeat as he did in victory at Augusta National and Chambers Bay.

3. Dustin Johnson’s ability to dominate golf courses was on full display for the first 36 holes of this tournament, but he closed with two rounds of 75 and finished in 49th. What do you think is holding him back from winning major tournaments? 

RITTER: The talent is there, but something seems missing and I’m not sure what it is. How about we just call it, “it.”

MORFIT: Dustin has demons. I wonder whether some small part of him was trying to avoid the late meltdown by having an early (and sustained) meltdown. The craziest 75 was the one he shot in the third round Sunday, when there was barely a breath of wind and the course was saturated with rain. He had to feel like he was shooting 105.

VAN SICKLE: Dustin needs more consistent wedge and putter play. I think he needs a great caddie who can lead him, a Steve Williams type. Maybe he would’ve made some different decisions in that ill-fated third round.

SENS: What’s that line about golf being 90 percent mental and 10 percent mental? So far, at least, he’s shown a knack for self-inflicted wounds when it matters most, which suggests a congenital weakness in the psychic makeup. Maybe he’ll find the cure. Or maybe he’ll wind up as the American Sergio. Either that’s his problem, or he doesn’t hit it far enough.

LYNCH: Johnson can bludgeon a course into submission in regular Tour events, but majors are often won between the ears. He doesn’t seem able to nuance his strategy or thought process to fit the situation. That was always the competitive genius of Tiger: the ability to put the brakes on a bad round, not by suddenly finding a missing swing, but by adjusting what he needed to do to get it to the house with the minimum amount of damage. Johnson has not yet shown the ability to pivot when hammering a driver isn’t enough.


4. Tiger Woods missed the cut at consecutive majors for the first time in his career, shooting 76-75 on a course he once dominated. Did this week illustrate how far he has fallen? How do you think he will fare entering the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits?   

RITTER: There’s no better way to illustrate how far Tiger’s fallen than to compare the dominant Old Course performances from his heyday with the flameout from last week. How will he fare at Whistling Straits? Poorly. I take that back. Very poorly.

MORFIT: I am more convinced than ever that Tiger’s issues are mental. People were scratching their heads, trying to marry the confident Tiger they saw hitting balls on the range with the hapless dude who went out and started his Open with a pair of bogeys on 1 and 2, holes where seemingly everyone in Fife was making birdies. He just doesn’t seem to have the fight in him anymore.

VAN SICKLE: Tiger tried to spin his week as not-that-bad, but I’d have to disagree. That said, he has nowhere to go but up. Clearly, some of his swing issues are mental. If you can hit it well on the range and can’t get it to the course, it’s not physical. He has become an enigma. We used to know exactly what Tiger would do week to week — win. Now, who knows? I would expect Tiger to play better than he did last week, at least.

SENS: That point has already been well-illustrated. This week just brought the picture into fuller relief. Barring a late-night visitation by Butch as the ghost-of-swing-instructors past, it’s hard to imagine him coming anywhere close to contending in Wisconsin.

LYNCH: Every time Tiger tees it up now shows us how far he has fallen. I’m unconvinced he’ll play the PGA Championship. Why would he? His game is not good enough to be on the PGA Tour right now, and Whistling Straits is a brutally demanding layout. The likely negatives for Tiger in playing there seem to outweigh the unlikely positives that could happen. This is not a course where he will find his game. Since he’s not eligible for Firestone and won’t make the FedEx Cup playoff events, I think there’s a real chance he could shut it down for the year quite soon.

5. The R&A was criticized this week for allowing players to battle the grueling wind on Saturday morning before a delay was called 32 minutes in. How would you assess the R&A’s handling of the week as a whole?

RITTER: They botched the green speeds for Saturday’s winds and paid the price. We’ll remember this event for the playoff and Spieth’s run at history, but a lot of players — including Spieth and Oosthuizen — lost some shots during the 32 minutes they were forced to play in unfair conditions Saturday morning. That stings.

MORFIT: That was a double bogey; they never should have sent the players out there. It’s also a stupid rule that says you can’t replace a ball that has blown 20 feet away from the pin. Why can you replace a ball that gets bumped into by another ball in the fairway (the John Daly and Miguel Angel Jimenez situation) but not if it’s blown away by the wind on the green, when an extra five or 10 feet really matter? Spieth said the whole deal cost him a shot (he three-putted the par-5 14th for par); bet he’d like that shot back now.

VAN SICKLE: The R&A did the best they could in a difficult situation. The dilemma is, what if only one small section of a course is unplayable — maybe only one green — but the rest of the course is fine? They probably should’ve stopped play a little sooner. That might’ve saved Spieth one of the shots he could’ve used.

SENS: At the Open, you expect weather to play a role, and not necessarily one that affects all players equally. But the R&A introduced human error into a decision that put some competitors at a disadvantage. You can’t call that anything but a flub on their part.

LYNCH: The wind was howling, sure, but it would have been something less of an issue if the greens were at a reasonable speed. Links courses have enough width to be played in strong winds, and the Old Course is no exception. But when you shave the greens, the wind makes play untenable. I played at Bandon Dunes last month in wind that was at least as strong as we saw during the Open. Then again, the folks at Bandon didn’t wax the greens.


6. Phil Mickelson showed flashes of brilliance on Monday (six birdies through 15 holes) mixed with head-scratching shots (a hook into the Old Course Hotel on No. 17 for a double-bogey), a microcosm of his entire week in which he finished T20. How would you characterize the 45-year-old’s chances at adding to his major total? 

RITTER: The odds get longer with each passing event. But he’s not done yet, because Phil is clearly summoning everything he has left for the majors. He’ll give it his best shot for as long as he can.

MORFIT: Phil will be a factor at the Masters for years to come, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see him get into the mix at Whistling Straits. The majors roll back the odometer on Mickelson like nothing else.

VAN SICKLE: Phil’s chances of snagging one more major are pretty small. He can still play brilliantly but has trouble sustaining it over 72 holes. I don’t expect Phil to win another major, but since I’d like to see him do it, I’d never bet against him. With Phil, nothing is impossible.

SENS: Alternately spectacular and stupefying. That’s not just his week in microcosm. It’s a microcosm of his career. It’s not hard to imagine him catching lightning in a bottle again, especially at Augusta. But I doubt you’d find a bookie willing to give you very good odds of nabbing another major. The chances are much better that he won’t.

LYNCH: The odds are against Phil. He has to battle age, putting woes, and arthritis, in addition to younger, longer, stronger rivals. But he’s never really kept to the script, has he?

7. In a wild week filled with wind delays, heavy rain and the Spieth Slam Watch, all of which played out at the Home of Golf, what will this British Open be remembered for when we look back on it years from now?

RITTER: Spieth falling one shot out of the playoff, and ending his run at history, is probably the top-line item. But if Tiger continues to spiral and never makes it back to the Old Course, his last walk across the Swilcan Bridge, where he never broke stride while playing out a missed cut, will also loom large.

MORFIT: This will be remembered the way the ’72 Open is: The Open where a man (Jack Nicklaus in ’72, Spieth in ’15) was right on the cusp of winning the third leg of the calendar-year grand slam only to lose it at the end. But while Nicklaus fell victim to Trevino, Spieth fell victim to a few loose shots of his own, especially with the putter.

VAN SICKLE: With all due respect to The Zach Attack, this week will be remembered for Spieth’s near-miss Grand Slam chase. It was one for the ages and I’ll always remember that clutch putt he made at 16, even though it proved to be not enough. That was an electrifying moment for sure.

SENS: In the big picture, the Spieth Slam will loom largest of all. From my very narrow personal perspective, it will be remembered as the week in which everyone I most wanted to win (Spieth, Day, Dunne) came up short.

LYNCH: We’ll remember an epic final day, overloaded with wonderful storylines, on the world’s greatest course. I can’t recall ever witnessing a major championship where so many men will leave town regretting a genuine missed opportunity: Spieth, Johnson, Scott, Garcia, Harrington, Dunne, Day — and that’s not even including the two guys who lost a playoff. This was everything golf ought to be.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.