SILVIS, Ill. – As good as they are together, they may be twice as good apart.
Zach Johnson opened the John Deere Classic with a 3-under-par 68 Thursday in a bid to win what is practically a hometown event.
Damon Green, Johnson’s regular caddie, also shot a 68 Thursday, his coming in the opening round of the U.S. Senior Open.
At 2 under, Green is on the leaderboard at a tough test at Indianwood Golf & Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich.
Johnson and Green might be temporarily apart this week, but they’re still working together in a bid to be doubly triumphant.
Out of sorts in his practice rounds, Green was delighted to get a call from Johnson on the eve of the U.S. Senior Open.
“I played so badly when I got here,” Green told reporters after his round. “Zach had some words of wisdom. I wasn’t feeling very confident. He just kind of cheered me up a little bit and said, `You'll hit way more fairways than you think you will, and you will hit more greens than you think you will. Just go out and have fun.’”
Green followed his boss’ orders. At one point at the U.S. Senior Open, he was tied for third.
“That’s awesome, because he wasn’t very confident last night,” Johnson said.
Green is playing this week with Johnson’s blessing. A former college star at Centenary, Green was a mini-tour dynamo. He won 71 mini-tour events and once had a hand on a PGA Tour card in the final stage of Q-School in 1994. Green, alas, missed a 2-foot putt at the final hole. It still haunts him.
“I wake up in a cold sweat sometimes,” Green once cracked.
Green tied for 13th in last year’s U.S. Senior Open.
Johnson and Green have been a team since 2004, Johnson’s rookie year. Green has been caddie for all eight of Johnson’s PGA Tour titles, including his Masters triumph in ’07. They are such a good combination, when McGladrey executives sought to film a TV commercial touting its tax and business consulting work, they used Johnson and Green’s interaction to make their points. It focused on “The power of being understood.”
Johnson appreciates Green’s skill as a player.
“He knows how to play, clearly, and it doesn’t surprise me he’s playing great,” Johnson said. “He’s a gamer. He competes regardless of how he is playing.”
Johnson didn’t make the same march onto the leaderboard in the first round at the TPC Deere Run as Green did, but he rallied from a sluggish start, playing his final eight holes in 4 under par.
After his round, Johnson was pleased to hear that Green was off to a fast start.
“Damon is just a very valuable part of the team,” Johnson said. “He has been with me since my second tournament on Tour, and he’s one of my best buddies.”
With Green away, Mike Bender picked up Johnson’s bag for the first time as caddie. Bender is Johnson’s swing coach. It added to the Iowa homecoming feel. Johnson is from Cedar Rapids, 90 minutes from the Quad Cities. Bender is from Waterloo, two-and-a-half hours away.
“When Zach makes a birdie, there’s that feeling of the hometown pulling for him,” Bender said.
Iowa is so strongly behind Johnson’s bid to win this event for the first time, University of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz was among the legion of Iowans following Johnson. Last year, Johnson tied for third here. Two years before that, he tied for second.
Green, even from afar, is trying to stay involved.
“I was actually texting Mike Bender,” Green said. “I'm pulling for Zach.”
Come Sunday, Johnson and Green hope to double their pleasure.