Zach Johnson was a successful tour player long before he won the Open Championship at St. Andrews last July at age 39, surviving a playoff with Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen. Johnson already had won 11 PGA Tour events, including the 2007 Masters. But on the Old Course, his great driving, solid approach play and sheer determination lifted him to a new level. When Johnson holed a sliding 30-footer for birdie in front of the R&A clubhouse to get into the four-hole playoff, it showed his grit.
It wasn't always that good. Johnson was not the best player on his high school team in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And he didn't play No. 1 at Drake. After college, he bounced around the mini-tours with his super-strong grip and short swing. When he started working with Mike Bender in 2000, his game got better. Over the next 15 years, it got a lot better.
But Bender was careful. For example, he never changed that grip. "The grip only determines how the release squares the face," he says. "Zach might hit it farther with a weaker grip, but he likes being in the fairway."
With two major wins and still going strong, who could blame him?