As two-time major champ, Johnson shows he might be in another league

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – As a son of the Midwest, Zach Johnson surprisingly was not a Cubs fan while growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Perhaps even more shocking, as Johnson stood on the grounds at Wrigley Field this week while holding the Claret Jug from his British Open victory, is that he’s still not partial to the lovable losers of Chicago’s North Side.

The Cubbies could use some of Johnson’s grit. At 39, Johnson, honored at a recent Cubs game, is the classic overachiever in golf. He struggled for years on various mini-tours – think baseball’s equivalent of a long-time minor-leaguer finally breaking into The Show – before earning his way onto the PGA Tour in 2004.

Yet Johnson insists that he doesn’t view himself as playing out of his league.

“They don’t know me entirely,” said Johnson, challenging those who might label him an overachiever. “They don’t know all my ability and capability, my capacity. And it’s not their fault. Not pointing fingers. I’m OK with that.”

Johnson compared his first major-championship victory, the 2007 Masters, with his recent triumph at St. Andrews’ Old Course. Many observers suggested that Tiger Woods lost that Masters. Similarly, the popular post-mortem from Scotland was that Jordan Spieth had lost the British Open.

In both cases, historians will credit Johnson with the victory.

In the ’07 Masters, Johnson won by two shots over Retief Goosen, Rory Sabbatini and Woods. In the final round, Johnson shot 3-under 69, tied for low score that Sunday. That year, Woods closed with 72, a fourth consecutive round in which he did not break par at Augusta National.

At last month’s British Open, Spieth made a lengthy birdie on the par-4 16th hole but then bogeyed the 17th hole to miss a playoff with Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman by a shot.

On that Monday final round, Johnson shot 6-under 66, again tying the lowest round of the day, before he birdied the first two holes in the four-hole aggregate playoff to pull ahead.

“First of all, there was two other guys that beat Jordan,” Johnson said of the British Open. “And in 2007, there was a couple of guys right in there, too. Whatever. I’m OK with that. Bottom line is that on the fourth day of those events, I was able to come out on top. And man, there’s pride there, but more than that there’s just, I would say, awe.”

Johnson, who flew home with Spieth and others after having won the Claret Jug, holds the 22-year-old Texan’s accomplishment in three years on Tour – notably winning the Masters and U.S. Open this year – in the highest regard.

“Bottom line is this: he won the first two majors, and there were three guys that made maybe one or two more putts than him in the other two,” Johnson said. “That’s ridiculous. I mean, he put himself in a position on Saturday and Sunday to win all four majors.”

Though surprised at Spieth’s level of success that hints at Woods’ incredible run in 2000 (nine victories, including three of four majors), Johnson knows that Spieth is the future of the game. With recent PGA champion Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and others, Spieth has put the game in a good place for the next generation.

“I’m not so sure we’ll see that again,” Johnson said of Spieth’s performance in the 2015 majors. “You never know what’s around the corner, but what he’s done is something all of us as golf fans, media, players, fans should just embrace and accept the fact that we just witnessed something that’s really, really difficult, really awesome and just fantastic.”

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