Johnson Lives Up to Pre-Season Hype

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04 Tour Championship by Coca-ColaIn just a few days time, Zach Johnson will no longer be a rookie on the PGA Tour. Hell sign his scorecard some time on Sunday ' hopefully, for his sake, in the late-evening hours, putting an official stamp on his first season on tour.
 
Johnson, however, hasnt felt like a rookie for quite some time.
 
Most first-timers are allowed certain anonymity when they arrive in the big league. They get to feel their way around this new professional life and acclimatize themselves, without the burden of outside expectation and unwarranted pressures.
 
But not Johnson.
 
Not when youre the reigning player of the year from the minor league. Not when youve set money records and scoring records and other statistical marks never before achieved at that level.
 
It was a little overwhelming at first, Johnson admitted. The transition (to the PGA Tour) was a half-a-step up from the Nationwide (tour), on the golf side of it. But what was the difficult part was there was a lot of extra stuff to deal with. There was a lot of attention my way, a lot of media exposure.
 
'Dont get me wrong, I'm not complaining ' I appreciate it, and I dont mind doing it. I appreciate the fact that people are interested in me. But it can be a little overwhelming.'
 
Countless profiles, multiple magazine covers, hundreds of questions ' all just part of being the early-season It guy.
 
All the hype started to wind down about April, and then
 
And then I won, he said, and it came back.
 
But when it came back, I was a bit more prepared.
 
In just his 13th career start on tour, Johnson captured the BellSouth Classic the week before the Masters Tournament.
 
Two months prior to his breakthrough performance in Atlanta, Johnson was on the practice range at the FBR Open in Phoenix, where he laid out his desired outline for the season: win; play in at least one major; qualify for the Tour Championship.
 
As he now looks back, he can put a checkmark by all three.
 
Johnson has made 29 starts this year ' including three major appearances (he didnt make the Masters field). In addition to his victory, he has a pair of top-3 finishes, and a total of five top-10s. All-in-all, hes pocketed $2,276,085; good enough to place him 18th on the money list and give him a return ticket to Atlanta for the season finale.
 
Ive accomplished goals, he says and then pauses. Lets say its been more positive than negative this year.
 
Ive got my specific goals each season: win; finish in the top 30; play in every major, he added. But the one that is the most important to me is: to improve.
 
Week in and week out, I just want to improve. Thats the big thing. I want to improve every week; thats my biggest goal every year.
 
It took six years, but Johnson finally improved enough to qualify for the PGA Tour in 2004.
 
After turning professional upon his graduation from Drake University in 1998, the Iowa native played the Prairie Golf Tour for two years.
 
He qualified for the Nationwide Tour in 2000, but his struggles sent him packing to the Hooters Tour in 2001 and 2002. There, he was the leading money winner in his first year, and second in his sophomore season.
 
With only partial status on the Nationwide Tour last year, Johnson proceeded to win twice, earn 11 top-10 finishes, make 19 of 20 cuts and set a single-season money record with $494,882.
 
And this year its only gotten better. He even purchased a motor home, which he and his wife, Kim, take to each and every tour stop ' even if they have to hire someone else to drive it.
 
Johnson said he was pleased overall with his continued improvement on the course this season. And well he should be. His numbers, aside from those that start with a dollar sign, werent as good as last year on the Nationwide Tour, but theyre very impressive for a guy playing in his first season at such an elite level.
 
Johnson ranks in the top 40 on tour in driving accuracy, greens hit in regulation, putting and scoring average. Hes outside the top 100 in driving distance, but is still averaging nearly 286 yards per measured pop.
 
He can hit it plenty far ' he averaged over 300 yards per drive a year ago, but scales it back for accuracy.
 
He may, however, unleash that power a little more next season, thanks to a new fitness regime.
 
Johnson said ' like most of the rest of us ' he tried to establish some sort of exercise program this year; he just didnt have the motivation ' the kind you get when youre actually paying for someone elses services.
 
I think in order to improve, its a matter of staying healthy and getting stronger, he said. 'There's only so much technology can do.
 
Having a set fitness routine would be very beneficial. I think if I pay somebody to (set his routine) Im not going to slack off. If I dont then Ill (work out), but not all the time.
 
When you give someone your money, it provides motivation.
 
Johnson will have plenty of time to test that motivation over the off-season. He only plans to play in the Korea Golf Challenge in late November and the Tommy Bahama Challenge on Jan. 1.
 
Other than that: Well go up north to visit family during Christmas and then head over to Hawaii a little early for the Mercedes. Thats about it, he said. Just taking it easy.
 
As for his game, any off-season changes will be physical, not mechanical for Johnson. He doesnt plan on making any major alterations in his swing. Thats because he and his teacher, Mike Bender, dont overhaul; they tune-up.
 
One thing I worked on, two, three years ago with my instructor is a foundation, Johnson said. When things go wrong I dont have to change anything. I can go back (to the foundation), take things apart and build them back up.
 
Theres just not much to take apart right now.
 
Johnsons rookie campaign has been a categorical success, and he expects ' as is his primary goal ' only to improve in 2005.
 
'I pretty much have the same goals for next year as this year. I still want to win, as much as I can, I still want to play in all of the majors, and I still want to make the Tour Championship,' he said. 'And I still want to keep getting better.'
 
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