FORT WORTH, Texas -- Among the elements that make up the complex formula of championship golf is the relationship between the player and his caddie. For years now, Zach Johnson and Damon Green have enjoyed the kind of honesty and mutual respect that leads to winning golf, as it did when Johnson took home the green jacket at the 2007 Masters. Now, that bond has grown stronger as they share the death of Green's father.
On the Sunday evening of the Players, soon after Johnson made a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 18 that was the difference between finishing T-2 or fifth at TPC Sawgrass, Green jumped in his car and drove the 360 miles from Ponte Vedra Beach to Pensacola for one last chat with his father, Rev. Douglas Brooks Green, before he passed away the following Thursday from stomach cancer.
"I got there at 11:30 and we stayed up until about 2 just talking," Green said Thursday at Colonial CC after Johnson shot 64 in the opening round of the Crowne Plaza Invitational. "He got to see the telecast [of the Players] and got to see the hat."
The hat was the one Damon wore at TPC Sawgrass that said: "Love Mom and Dad." Green's mother, Ruth, is 90 years old. "Dad was 88," Green said. "He had 87 good ones."
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Just one week after his father passed, Green was back at work. "It was tough," he said, "but I thought it would be a lot tougher with everyone coming up and offering their condolences. But I am at ease as much as possible with it because I know he is in a better spot. I know he's up there. He was in pain the last few days."
Meanwhile, Green's boss continued the solid play that has resulted in him making all 12 cuts this year on the PGA Tour and finishing second in two of his last three starts. He also has a great track record at Colonial, winning in 2010 and finishing fourth last year
"I will tell you for some reason this time of year, this week in particular I've played well," said Johnson, who shares a deeply religious conviction with Green. "For some reason, right around Charlotte [the Wells Fargo Championship], TPC, I started to see my game go like this over the last two or three or four years. Hopefully I can keep it going that direction and don't let it stop."
The fact that Green is a good player is also part of the bond between Damon and Zach. In 2007, when he was in Bermuda working for Johnson at the PGA of America Grand Slam of Golf, Damon finished third in the Bermuda Open. Green, 51, who has won dozens of mini-tour events, opened last year's U.S Senior Open with a 67 and closed with solid rounds of 71, 70 and 70 to finish T-13.
The end came suddenly for Rev. Green. "I had him at the house about 2 1/2 months ago and he didn't feel like eating," Damon said, referring to his place on a lake in St. Cloud, Fla., near Orlando. "When he got back to Pensacola, they took out his gall bladder, they didn't even see cancer. Then he started going downhill quickly. It was a fast-spreading stomach cancer."
The strong start by Johnson certainly eased Green's return. "Zach gave me a nice present today with that 64," Green said. "And he gave me a good present at the Players when he made about a 30-footer on 18. When he got finished he said, 'That was for Dad right there.' It was a big putt for us finishing second or way down the list."
That putt was the difference between the $627,000 Johnson won, a slice of which goes to Green, and the $380,000 -- a difference of $247,000 -- he would have earned if he had finished solo fifth. The putt found the hole as if destined to do so.
But what happened at the Players and in the first round of the Crowne Plaza is about more than money -- it's about family, faith and the special relationship between player and caddie.
Together, Johnson and Green are playing for a higher cause this week at Colonial. And Zach just may have one more present for Damon, in memory of Rev. Green, up his sleeve.
-- Ron Sirak