News & ToursAugust 11, 2015

Five reasons Zach Johnson can ACTUALLY win at Whistling Straits

HAVEN, Wisconsin -- A month ago, Zach Johnson was considered a nice player. Eleven career victories, highlighted by a win at the 2007 Masters. Seven appearances for the United States in the Ryder and Presidents Cups. A career that most on tour would envy.

Conversely, the 39-year-old's name was not synonymous with the game's greats. Even in the sport's lax Hall-of-Fame standards, Johnson was a man on the outside looking in.

How things can change in a month.

Following his conquest at this year's British Open, Johnson vaulted in vaunted company. He joined Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Sam Snead, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo as the only players with a green jacket to capture the claret jug at St. Andrews. Only six active golfers have more career tour wins; he's now 11th on the all-time money list.

Life is shining bright for Johnson after the British Open. Imagine how sunny it will be if he walks away with the Wanamaker Trophy this week.

Don't laugh. "Zach Johnson, PGA Champion" is a realistic proposition. Here are five reasons why Johnson will emerge victorious at Whistling Straits:

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The Big MO

As we pointed out, momentum plays an integral part in crowning a king at the PGA Championship. Obviously his St. Andrews success is at the forefront, but it wasn't an aberration. Johnson has eight top 10s this campaign, including four top-six finishes in his last six tournaments.

Moreover, as one who already has a major under his belt, Johnson feels like he can handle all that comes with winning on golf's biggest stage.

"I feel more more prepared this time than I did in '07," Johnson said at his PGA Championship press conference on Tuesday. "You kind of know what goes along with that. If anything it gives me the appreciation that I've got the right ensemble of teammates, coaches, that can help me navigate it."

He came THIS close to winning here in 2010

You can be forgiven if you can't recall Johnson's performance at the last Whistling Straits stop. Hell, most people don't even know who won.

Yet Johnson turned in four sub-par rounds in 2010, tying for third and missing a playoff by one shot.

It's a showing that Johnson feels will bring dividends this week.

"I'm going to cling to the positives of five years ago and I know what those are," Johnson said. "Bottom line is, mentally, I know I can play here. I know this golf course, what it demands, and I think there's aspects of it that really suit my game."

Home-field advantage

Actually, not really, but someone asked Johnson -- a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa -- if he felt the Sheboygan, Wisconsin confines would serve as a "home game."

To give that context, that would be like asking a basketball player from Philly how it felt to be drafted by his hometown Boston Celtics.

And you know what? HALF THE MEDIA CENTER THOUGHT IT WAS A VIABLE QUESTION! As a Midwesterner, this bugs me to no end. Damn you Coasters, we're not just one community! We have identities too!

Straight shooter

At 7,500 yards, Whistling Straits seemingly favors muscle. Yet, like all Pete Dye courses, Whistling Straits caters to precision over power, a sentiment evidenced in Johnson's 2010 performance.

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"I think I kind of proved (power) doesn't matter five years ago," Johnson remarked on the correlation between the long ball and the course.

With an average drive of 282 yards, Johnson is one of the shortest hitters (160th) on tour. What he lacks with the long ball, he makes up in accuracy, as his 72.18 driving accuracy percentage is fourth-best among pros. An attribute that will serve him well this week.

Teamwork makes the dream work

If you played a drinking game during Johnson's presser and "team," "coaches" or "support" were the magic words, you would be wicked bombed.

But to Johnson, this is not your usual athlete-cliche vernacular. He truly believes the group dynamic around him is on the same wavelength. And if you don't think that particular attitude matters in sports, Google "teamwork quotes" and sift through the results.

Despite his British Open victory, Johnson is not among the favorites at Whistling Straits, to the point where Tiger Woods has better Vegas odds.

A month ago, no one would have batted an eye at such a standing. But as Johnson proved, a lot can change in a month.

Follow @JoelMBeall


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