For a brief spell during Thursday’s opening round of the PGA Championship, there was Zach Johnson whether you looked up or down the leaderboard.
Two-time major champ Zach Johnson rode a hot putter to 31 on his opening nine (he started on the back) and was in the lead for a good portion of the early afternoon.
Zach J. Johnson, a club pro from Salt Lake City, Utah, didn’t fare quite as well, posting three double-bogeys en route to an 82, and was at the very bottom.
It was the best of times, it was … never mind.
As for the Johnson, who won the 2007 Masters and the 2015 Open Championship, he looked completely at ease with TPC Harding Park on a day when conditions eased a bit. After fog and chilly temperatures made practice rounds a bit more challenging, the course loosened up on Thursday as sunny skies and warm temps prevailed.
Johnson, who has a dozen PGA Tour wins to his credit, seized the opportunity to post an early number.
“I feel like this is a course where you’ve got to get the ball in the fairway, and the driver for me is important, and then obviously after that, it’s around the greens chipping, and obviously making putts,” he said. “Today I putted great. Even some of the putts I missed today looked really good. Pretty solid. There wasn’t anything overly flashy, just solid.”
Johnson started on the back nine Thursday, and used consecutive birdies on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 to make the turn at 31.
His second nine was simply steady, a 21-foot putt on No. 3 his loan birdie as he finished with a 4-under 66, good enough to trail only Jason Day from the early groups.
“I hit some shots close and then obviously started to make some putts and the confidence came. The greens just seem to be a little bit faster today. Granted, as the week goes on they should get faster,” he said. “My speed, if anything, I was leaving them short in my practice rounds, and if I thought about, oh, man, don’t leave it short, then you knock it way by. It just felt like the speed was where it should be today.
“But I putted great. It didn’t matter if I made it or missed it. I think I maybe had two two-putts on the back if I’m not mistaken, maybe one. A couple fringes, a couple easy chips, but I just gave myself opportunities for the most part.”
Heading into Friday, Johnson knows he’ll need to replicate his success on the greens by getting into proper position. As is his MO, Johnson averaged just over 280 yards off the tee on Thursday, but at the time he left the course he was first in strokes gained putting.
To contend for a third major, he’ll need to repeat that formula.
“Yeah, hitting fairways and … for me, trying to commit to just one of two shots: It’s my stock shot, which is a draw, or it’s kind of a push,” he said. “Keep it that simple because if there’s anything I’ve ever told anybody — I actually told a couple young guys this week on the phone and in person — you don’t have to manipulate or change your game just because it’s a major.
“So I’m trying to keep it simple. That’s the best way I can put it.”
As for club pro Zach J. Johnson, he struggled on Thursday, but his biggest thrill came during Wednesday’s practice round. Since the two had been paired on a Zoom call in advance of the PGA Championship, the duo — which had met briefly at Bellerive Country Club in the PGA Championship two years ago — said they’d try to play together in San Francisco and that’s exactly what happened.
“He’s just a very solid guy – very welcoming, very personable, and willing to help,” Zach J. said of the two-time major winner.