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LA QUINTA, Calif. — Zach Johnson got 2017 started well, tying for sixth at last week’s Sony Open.
His second round 9-under 61 earned him a final group pairing with eventual winner Justin Thomas, trailing by seven shots, but he could not catch the red-hot 23-year-old and had to settle for a sixth-place tie.
It was, however, his best finish on Tour in 10 months.
“It was a great way to start the calendar year,” said Johnson, a former Cedar Rapids prep who was fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March. “I gave myself opportunities and played fairly consistent golf.”
Johnson continues the 2016-17 PGA Tour season this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge in Palm Springs, an event Johnson owns two top-10s in, including a tie for third in 2014.
Until last year, Johnson figures he hadn’t played the two newer courses in the event’s rotation for 15 years, going back to his Q-school days trying to earn his card. These two are the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West and the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course.
Johnson remembers playing well through Q-school’s first three days and on his way to earning his card for the 2003 PGA Tour season. But things changed quickly.
“I just absolutely tanked it the last two or three days,” Johnson said. “But, yeah, I remember I don’t like Q-school.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a pro who does, but Johnson said he loves coming back to the desert and the pristine conditions it provides.
“It’s desert golf, it’s very target-oriented golf,” Johnson said. “So it’s really about placement here and putting it there and that kind of thing. I like that kind of golf.”
Johnson looks forward to the opportunities 2017 brings.
“I’m excited with what we did in the offseason with our practice schedule, and excited that my golf bag is really complete now and really good,” Johnson said. “Everything is intact, so it’s really just about competing and trying to get better. Not that it wasn’t last year, but we just polished it up a little bit so I’m very encouraged.”
The changes for Johnson haven’t been just golf-related. The 40-year-old moved with his family to another home in central St. Simons Island during the early winter.
“That took the bulk of our free time for my family and I, so that was good,” Johnson said.
“We had everybody there for Christmas, which was a lot of fun, and I got to be the one who smoked the meat, which was fun too,” he said.
And speaking of home, Johnson was in Iowa twice during the fall, taking in two football games.
“I enjoyed taking the time off and taking in a couple football games back home,” Johnson said. “I was 2-0, so that was good. And I took my boys to both games, and in fact, took the whole family there for the second game because we were there for Thanksgiving.”