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Zach Attack Takes It At Augusta, Dunning Comes Along for the Ride

Despite not trying for a single par five in two, despite having a [photopress:johnson.jpg,full,alignright]driving distance that ranks him 162cnd on the PGA Tour (and behind the likes of Mike Weir), and despite hitting long irons into a lot of greens, Zach Johnson is the new Masters champ.

I’m fascinated by the resulting coverage. Seems like the CBS announcers were actually rooting for Tiger Woods and against Johnson at points during the telecast. Surely the media can’t mention Johnson without also referencing Woods, who didn’t really challenge much on Sunday, hit few good shots (his eagle on 13 was the notable exception), but threw it away with an ill-conceived shot at the green on 15. Take a look at Golfobserver.com to see what I mean.

Johnson’s response to all of this was pretty cool:

After the round, (golfer) Vaughn Taylor said, ËœIf youre not Superman, youre Supermans brother,‚ a reporter said. Tiger and Retief (Goosen) had 15 majors combined. You held them off. Who are you?

Im Zach Johnson, and Im from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he said.

If you want to know more about the kid from Cedar Rapids, check out this story in the Kansas City Star by Joe Posnanski. It is a pretty thorough account of Johnson’s career, including the notion that few felt he would ever be a success on the PGA Tour.

I think the ending to the column, while verging on maudlin, is still quite touching and nicely written:

Zach Johnson thought: If I make this putt, I could win the Masters.

It was all there ” a million emotions. He felt nervous. He felt excited. He felt as if God was with him. He felt as if Tiger Woods was the greatest golfer in the world. He felt as if he had a good line on the putt. He felt as if his 14-week-old son would look up into his eyes no matter what he did. He felt as if he needed to go ahead.

He struck his putt. He made his putt.

After that, it was a blur, a bogey at 17, a soft chip at 18, a final putt, a long embrace with his wife, a kiss on the forehead of his son and then watching Tiger Woods come into 18 needing a miraculous eagle to tie. (Im like ËœHes done stranger things,‚ Johnson said). Woods final shot at victory was way wide, and Zach Johnson was given a green jacket. He had won the Masters. He had beaten Tiger Woods. Its a crazy story. Its an Iowa story.

Cedar Rapids ¦ what is it about that place? he was asked.

I dont know, Johnson said, and he started crying. Its home.

But before we all start choking up, Frank Hannigan on Golfobserver.com makes some good points about the downside of the Masters:

Sadly, the Masters, because of its success is responsible for some of the worst in American golf. They allowed players to play 5 hours and 30 minutes the first two days, even set up times so that such a horror was bound to happen.

The look of Augusta has been a dreadful influence on American golf. It costs a fortune to produce. Attempts are made everywhere to emulate Augusta National. Golf maintenance costs have risen faster than the cost of health care or college tuition.

So what should be taken away from this year’s Masters, the year in which the course finally played the way Tom Fazio and Augusta have redesigned it to play? Well, for three days the tournament was dry as toast and just about as interesting. Players struggled mightily, and if that’s your idea of a good time, why not just watch a fly have its wings pulled off. It is just about as much fun.

I think the powers that be at Augusta realized they had made a mistake by Sunday, watered the greens, while general weather conditions made Augusta more playable. Johnson, however, in a similar way to Mike Weir in 2003, played a careful, calculated game that required a great deal of finesse and skill with long irons, as well as a deft touch with his putter. A similar, U.S. Open-style approach was taken by Retief Goosen, but his decision to hit an iron off 13 and then not make birdie was a key turning point. Goosen needed to find another gear, but instead his conservative play while trailing resulted in a strong finish, but not a win. And who is going to remember who finished behind Johnson?

The one thing this Masters did appear to disprove is the notion that you have to be a long hitter to win. Johnson is 162cnd in driving distance, but 6th in accuracy and 11th in putting. Makes one wonder if Augusta, even at longer than 7,400 yards, has now become more of a putting contest than a bomber’s paradise. Seems to me that those who avoided the pines and could then chip and putt most effectively were those that had the most success.

Among the big Canadian stories coming out of the event was a big win for Dunning Golf. The little Canadian company that could, founded by a man who felt sports fabrics had a place in golf, was a big winner with Johnson prominently wearing Dunning shirts throughout the event. Dunning was in big letters on his sleeve, and it’ll be interesting to see the effect of the win on Dunning’s sales. I’m a huge fan of their clothing (my pink Eagles Nest logoed Dunning golf shirt is one of my favourites), so I’m very pleased to see them break through. I’m stunned the company doesn’t have Johnson on their homepage yet. The company’s homepage has now been updated to include Johnson on its main page.

One thing did strike me as odd though was Johnson’s apparent feeling that he won the event with the help of God. He noted it was Easter and felt that Jesus had something to do with his win. I’m sure his faith gives him strength and I can respect that. He seems like a well spoken, genuine individual. While I’m sure this plays well in the American heartland, I always wonder the same thing when an athlete thanks God for his succcess: Does that mean Jesus and God didn’t like the other guy as much? Was Jesus rooting for Johnson, but wasn’t so keen to see Appleby win, which is why he hit it in the later on 12? What about poor Justin Rose? I’m not the only one to notice this.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • One thing did strike me as odd though was Johnson’s apparent feeling that he won the event with the help of God.

    I am not sure why you would think this. To reach the pinnacle of sport, whether its the Masters, or winning a gold is a absolutely selfish belief in one’s own abilities. There can be no self doubt about one’s abilities at this super elite level. The athlete has to believe in his own worthiness and his ability to win. If there is any doubt, then they can hardly compete at this level. It is then a small ‘leap of faith’ if you will, to also believe that God himself has the same faith in you. Obviously, some place a greater focus on faith than others. However, what doesn’t vary is a very very high opinion of self. As I said, it is then just a small leap of faith to believe that the athlete is the chosen one, and that God is supporting him. I actually wasn’t surprised by the comment. Athletes at the super elite level need all the comfort that they can get, and Zach’s comfort comes in the form of his faith. It’s the same comfort that competing armies look to in the moments before battle. It allows them to function under incredible stress.

  • Frank Hannigan says it like it is… I have great respect and admiration for his keen awareness and will to speak freely.

  • The fawning by the CBS announce team over Woods was very irritating, epsecially on Saturday, when they seemed completely over the top, even compared to their usual praise. There was more of it on Sunday after he finally did something positive, particularly from Peter Kostis, who seems to be overcompensating after being shunned by Woods a few years ago for making some critical comments about his swing. And even the usally good Peter Oosterhuis tried to float the idea that perhaps Woods was ill and that was why he wasn’t winning. Couldn’t they just say that Johnson had a good day and beat Woods?

    I find that Hannigan’s columns on Golfobserver (infrequent as they are) go beyond “crusty” and sometimes sound downright cynical and/or meanspirited.

    The changes to ANGC should let the powers that be at Augusta learn that they now have options on how to set up the course. Yesterday’s setup made for a fun day for viewers, a stern test but one that still offered birdie and eagle possibilties. To judge it based on Saturday’s train wreck was unfair, as the weather was extreme and got worse as the day went on. Hopefully that is something that has been learned and that we won’t see again.

  • Yea, another victory for the God Squad!
    What happens if the guy you’re battling down the stretch is of a different faith? I can imagine the respective gods battling it out on a heavenly fairway somewhere… Of course, you might think they have more important issues to deal with – but maybe they get time off work for recreation too?!!

  • I’m Jewish so the post-game Jesus praises always stick in my craw. But when I think about it, it strikes me that he was probably thanking Jesus for giving him the opportunity and confidence to be the best he can be. I doubt even a born-again is of the belief that Jesus is busy watching all the games and playing favourites. Allah on the other hand…

  • Zach is right in thanking the Lord…How else would he explain his win except for divine intervention? I can’t wait for Phil or Sergio or Monty in their post-round interviews one day to say ‘I did not win not because I make a triple bogey on the first hole. I did not win because Jesus is not on my side today’. Maybe Lefty will incorporate church visit in his preparations for Majors’. Also, why can’t Woods buy God’s favor with all the money he makes?

    Frank Hannigan probably also lamenting the fact that there are actually ‘smart people’ in the world that is making all the dumb people feel inferior and having to go to school to become smarter. He probably cries over golf equipment is too forgiving these days that more people are playing golf and causing 4+ hour round.

    By never went for the green in 2 at all the par 5s all week, perhaps Zach will start a trend of laying up at par 5. On second thought, Nah, not gonna happen.

    For press people who write negatively about Augusta National, I suspect they are the same people who do not get invited to play on the Monday after the Masters.

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