Sandwiched between his final round Sunday at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut and driving onto the grounds Tuesday morning at TPC Deere Run, Zach Johnson made a stop in Iowa City at the Hawkeye football facility.
The avid Hawkeye fan watched the team work out Monday afternoon and addressed the squad afterward.
“I was like a kid in a candy store,” Johnson said. “It was tremendous.
“I’m not sitting there analyzing, ‘Oh, what are they doing?’ I don’t know Xs and Os of the game per se. I feel like I’m 12 out there, and I look like I’m 12 out there.”
When it comes to the John Deere Classic, Johnson is anything but a minuscule figure. The 40-year-old is the highest-ranked golfer in the field this week, arguably the biggest fan favorite and an annual fixture on the leaderboard.
The Cedar Rapids product has a win, three runner-up finishes, two thirds and a tie for 21st in his last seven Classics. It has added up to more than $2.6 million deposited to his bank account.
“I’m certainly comfortable with the golf course, the greens and the bentgrass,” Johnson said. “With that comes confidence. Oftentimes confidence can breed momentum. It can just carry over week to week, month to month and year to year.”
Early in Johnson’s PGA Tour career he struggled to handle the expectations that come with playing virtually a hometown event in front of family and friends. He missed the cut three times and never finished inside the top 20 in his first seven JDCs.
Now, he has been a well-oiled 60s machine. Johnson has strung together 28 consecutive sub-70 rounds at Deere Run and is a collective 124-under par in that span.
“This place is very special,” Johnson said. “I’ve embraced the fact that it’s a fun week for me because I have family, I have friends that come out. It doesn’t matter if I shoot 78 or 62 here, they’re still going to cheer me on.”
Another high finish at the JDC could solidify Johnson’s spot on his fifth United States Ryder Cup team, fourth in a row. He currently is sixth in the standings, with the top eight secured after the Barclays Championship on Aug. 28.
Given the Ryder Cup is in the Midwest (Hazeltine National Golf Club in suburban Minneapolis) next month and close friend Davis Love III is the captain, the event has added significance for Johnson.
“It was on my mind after 2014,” he said. “Every chance I have. I try not to think about it, but you can’t not think about it.”
Since hoisting the Claret Jug at St. Andrews last July, the 12-time PGA Tour winner has not won. He switched to PXG (Parsons Xtreme Golf) clubs at the start of the year.
Johnson has had only one top-five finish this season, and that came in March at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
He battled an illness this spring that led to considerable weight loss. Normally one of the top 10 players on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, Johnson is 50th this year at 63.8 percent. He's also 104th in greens in regulation.
Still, his game has shown flashes in recent months. He was eighth at the U.S. Open, 10th at the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational and 12th in his title defense at the British Open.
“There are some things I feel like I need to polish,” Johnson said. “For the most part, I like where I’m at right now.
“My short game seems to be tremendous. Things are going to happen. It’s just that darn word I hate, but I know it’s prevalent and essential, and that’s patience.”
Johnson looks to join D.A. Weibring, Steve Stricker, Deane Beman, Scott Hoch, David Frost and Jordan Spieth as players with multiple JDC titles this week.
“Most people think, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s won here two, three or four times,’” Johnson said. “No. I’ve got my one, hoping for another.”