Q&A with Zach Johnson
Zach Johnson talks to the press, and sheds some light on life after the Masters at the AT&T Classic media day.
DAVE KAPLAN: I’m Dave Kaplan, the tournament director for the AT & T Classic. We have a new name and a new date. I’d like to spend a couple minutes talking in general about the tournament and then we’ll get Zach to talk a little bit about his whirlwind of the last few weeks and the AT & T Classic.
As you all remember, prior to last year’s tournament, we did some work on the front nine at Sugarloaf, transitioned all the rough to Bermuda. They were overseeded, and did some tee leveling and a few bunker changes on the front nine, and this past year after the tournament we did the same thing to the back nine.
The roughs are now Bermuda, but everything is overseeded with Rye, and there have been a few bunker changes. For instance, on No. 17 the bunker on the right, fairway bunker on the right has been moved out because guys were just blowing it over those bunkers, and now that bunker will come into play a little bit more. And there’s several other strategic bunkering changes.
Q. Are you Zach-proofing the course?
DAVE KAPLAN: We thought about that.
ZACH JOHNSON: You need to make it a lot shorter and tighter.
DAVE KAPLAN: Just talk about the field. We’ve got about 25 more days before commitment end on the Friday prior to the tournament. Of course Zach is committed; Charles Howell; Chris DiMarco; and while he has not committed, we received a hotel reservation for Vijay Singh; Boo Weekley, who won at Verizon this past weekend.
Internationally, because of the time, we will be losing a lot of those international players. The Irish Open is opposite us, and Wentworth is the following week. But we do have Henrik Stenson, who last I saw was ranked about 7th in the world, Niclas Fasth, who is in the world’s top 50. We’re also got our local guys, Stewart Cink, Billy Andrade, Jason Bohn, Heath Slocum, that crowd. And a little bit unique this year, we’ve got two Champions Tour players in our field, Larry Nelson who we gave a sponsor exemption to, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame; and Raymond Floyd, who wears the AT & T logo on his sleeve. So we have a couple Champions Tour guys in the field.
Two events that I’d just briefly like to talk about is we’re going to have our first annual fishing tournament for the players on Tuesday, Bass and Birdies up at Lake Lanier. Tom Mann, Jr., a professional bass fisherman on the FLW and Bassmasters Tour, is heading that up, sponsored by Southern Company. And that will be just a little private thing for the players to enjoy. We have guides for each player and all the gear and everything, and anybody needs more information on that they can call me or John.
And another thing we’re doing this year that has not been part of the tournament is those of you who covered the Chick-Fil-A Charity Championship down at Eagles Landing recall that Nancy Lopez presented an award to the top woman amateur golfer in the world for the prior year, and the last three winners have been Morgan Pressel, Lorena Ochoa and Paula Creamer.
Nancy wanted to continue that award and she wanted to continue it in Georgia, and we stepped up, the Atlanta Classic Foundation have stepped up, and offered her the opportunity to make that part of our Pro-Am Draw Party on Tuesday night.
So the winner has been determined. I won’t say who it is, but the winner, the voting ended I guess over the weekend, and we’re getting in contact with that person right now to make sure that she can come and accept the Nancy Lopez award at our Pro-Am dinner. Those are a few things happening with the tournament.
And now let’s get to what we’re here for, Zach Johnson, our 2004 champion, this year’s Masters champion. As a little side note, the last three AT & T Classic champions, BellSouth Classic champions, have been the last three Masters champions, not necessarily in that order, but they have been.
I guess, Zach, I’ll start with a question and let you expound. I guess one thing everybody wants to know is how The Masters has changed your life and your confidence level. Maybe you’ve had a little time for it to sink in.
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, it hasn’t really sunk in yet, that’s for sure. Still very surreal. I didn’t get back from Hilton Head until last night due to the wind delay, so I’m still just trying to get my feet on the ground.
All in all, I don’t think it’s going to change a whole lot. From a professional standpoint obviously things have changed fairly significantly. I mean, my security is – it was never bad, but it’s certainly a lot better now, and I don’t have to worry about privileges and where I’m playing and that sort of thing.
But personally, I don’t think anything has really changed and I don’t foresee it changing. I don’t want it to change because I haven’t changed in I don’t know how many years, and I don’t anticipate any –
Q. We’ll make sure you don’t change.
ZACH JOHNSON: That’s right.
Q. Were you surprised at how well you played at Hilton Head after all that you had gone through at Augusta and the tough conditions as well as the whirlwind you did in New York with the media?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, a little bit, yes. I mean, I obviously wasn’t able to prepare like I normally do, but I was also coming off a high and I was confident. I was able to maintain that high level of play I felt. I had a couple mental lapses early on Thursday, but I think that was probably due to fatigue and lack of sleep. But all in all, everything was pretty good, and everything just kind of felt good.
I lowered my expectations. I basically just wanted to go out there, play golf and have fun, and fortunately I continued some decent play.
Q. Talk a little bit about Sugarloaf and how you expect it to play in May versus March.
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, you know, I always liked Atlanta to prepare for Augusta, so in that respect I think it kind of stinks. But that’s also being very selfish because I think that course, that town, Atlanta in general, the fans, certainly the tournament, the volunteers, have a well-deserved better date.
I think the golf course itself will be – it’s always been a good test. I mean, this course proves that, but I think it’ll be even better. I don’t see how it can’t be. It’s better weather. As you all know, the groundskeepers, the staff will be able to have a lot more freedom and leeway, and Mother Nature won’t be – shouldn’t be as much of a havoc, just based on trend.
I think across the board, the positives certainly are awesome. You know, I think it was a great course to prepare for Augusta, but as you well know, you really can’t prepare for Augusta. I’ll just throw that one aside. I’m very, very happy that this tournament has been moved.
I remember sitting in your office a couple years ago, I think all types of precipitation in a matter of 24 hours, and you were writing a letter to Mr. Finchem and the Tour execs just with another request, like I’m assuming a lot of other tournaments do, and fortunately
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