Zach Johnson had a headache. His wife wasnt feeling well. Their little boy was fussy, and he was wearing as many strawberries as he was eating.
Then they pulled into Augusta National, and the mood instantly brightened.
It was like the clouds parted and here comes the sunshine, Johnson said Tuesday. Felt pretty good. Just the old vibes, the old memories, the feelings. Its just great to have.
Being the Masters champion feels just as good now as it did when he was putting on that green jacket for the first time a year ago.
And yes, its all still a little surreal.
Johnsons victory last year was, suffice it to say, one of the more unlikely at the Masters. Sure, he had won on the PGA TOUR before, and he was good enough to be on the Ryder Cup team in 2006. But he wasnt one of those up-and-coming phenoms whose game demands attention. Hes not the best putter on TOUR, doesnt have the most impressive short game and hes certainly not the longest hitter around.
He didnt go for a single par-5 last year. In any round. That kind of low-risk, low-reward strategy will usually get you invited back to this tournament, but not as its defending champion.
Throw in the fact Tiger Woods was making a charge Sunday afternoon, and Zach Johnson, Masters champion took more than a few people by surprise.
I always felt I could win a major, but not this one last year because in the practice rounds it was playing so long, Johnson said. But then the wind picked up, and things changed.
Now its his entire life thats changed.
Winning a major validates a players career. No matter what else he does, hell always have that one title that matters more than the others.
Winning the Masters goes even beyond that. Its widely considered the most special of the majors, played every year at a most special course. Even folks who dont follow golf know all about Augusta National and green jackets and Magnolia Lane.
Johnson found himself joking with David Letterman in the days after his win. When he went back to Iowa, he got a reception fit for a king'The King, at least. Everywhere he goes now, hes introduced as Zach Johnson, Masters champion.
It hits you about two weeks to a month after, and after that it hits you periodically, Johnson said. Every now and then, you wake up and you go into your closet and, `Oh yeah, I forgot about that one.
Not that he could forget this week. As the defending champion, his name and face are everywhere. Hes got his very own spot in the champions locker room' with a permanent brass nameplate'just like Woods, Phil Mickelson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Hes got a prime tee time Thursday, two groups after Fred Couples and two in front of Woods.
And then theres the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night.
Tonight is going to be a complete honor, and Im just going to be a sponge, Johnson said. Im going to be a fly on the wall just soaking it in, listening in, listening to some stories because thats what I hear its all about. And eat some good food, I hope.
Being from Iowa, steak is on the menu. Shrimp, too, in a nod to his wifes hometown of Amelia Island, Fla.
And, of course, corn.
I think weve got a corn casserole, if Im not mistaken, he said. Or corn pudding.
All the trappings aside, Johnson knows he cant spend the entire week reliving last years tournament. This is still a work trip, after all.
I dont want to dwell on last year, but theres a lot of positives that I can take away from it and certainly implement, Johnson said. I can win here. Thats a good thing.
Despite his green jacket, Johnson still hasnt achieved heavyweight status. Even the label on the bin for transcripts from his news conference Tuesday had Zack Johnson.
Its not that hes a one-hit wonder. Far from it. A month after his win at Augusta, he proved it was no fluke with a victory at the AT&T Classic. He tied for second at the Tour Championship, shooting a 60 in the third round. Hes made the cut in all eight events hes played this year, with his best finish a tie for ninth at the CA Championship.
But his game is still as low-key and unassuming as Johnson himself.
I feel like I can win more majors, theres no question, he said. Im not going to go into any major saying, `I need to win, or `I should win. Im going to go into majors looking for opportunities, thats all it is. I want to be in contention. I want to have opportunities to get in contention.
And if other people still need some convincing, thats their problem.
I won a major in Tigers era, Johnson said. They can say what they want.