SPORTS

Zach Johnson's mind in Cedar Rapids as Ryder Cup begins

Professional golfer glad to see response from his hometown

Cedar Rapids’ Zach Johnson (center) greets Phil Mickelson while Rickie Fowler stands by during a practice for the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club. The events starts today (USA Today Sports)
Cedar Rapids’ Zach Johnson (center) greets Phil Mickelson while Rickie Fowler stands by during a practice for the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club. The events starts today (USA Today Sports)

CHASKA, Minn. — Zach Johnson will make his fifth appearance in a Ryder Cup this week at Hazeltine National Golf Club when the 41st edition of these biennial matches begin this morning.

Johnson was understandably asked during his Thursday morning news conference to discuss the current situation in Cedar Rapids. And the 40-year-old’s heart and thoughts are certainly on the local area.

“It’s been a focal point. I’d like to have only one focal point this week, but that seems to be the other, for obvious reasons,” Johnson said. “(For) my hometown of Cedar Rapids, the forecast was one thing and fortunately it didn’t quite get to that point.”

Johnson spoke with trusted friends back in Cedar Rapids over the last few days and concluded that this year’s flooding was dealt with much better than in 2008, mostly because of preparation and good leadership.

“What they have put in, you know, infrastructure-wise has helped pretty good, there’s still going to be some issues, but a lot of businesses are going back to work (today),” Johnson said. “My mom evacuated her office. She’s going back shortly, even though she’ll be here (this week). And all in all, I think we kind of, so far, we’ve escaped what could have been really bad.

“We’re all one big family there.”

Last week Johnson struggled with whether he should have been in Cedar Rapids helping or continued practicing for the Ryder Cup, four hours north in Chaska, Minn.

“There’s a part of me last week, I’m preparing for this week where I’m like, I should probably be in Cedar Rapids, but in talking to some people, they are like, ‘No, we need you to prepare. We want you in Minnesota.’ So that was awfully kind,” Johnson said.

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“But you do see the true character and the true values of people when tough situations arise, and you know, Cedar Rapidians, Iowans in general, yeah, there’s a deep sigh — but then after that — it’s like ‘OK, let’s get to work’.”

Although nowhere near as important as the situation in Cedar Rapids, this morning’s Ryder Cup foursome matches provide Johnson the opportunity to get to work himself. He’s paired with second-year Ryder Cup player Jimmy Walker in match No. 3 of 4. The American duo will face strong opposition in the form of European veterans Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer.

Although Johnson’s family and friends often provide the most accurate updates on the river and the flooding situation in Cedar Rapids, he also keeps informed in other ways.

“In my free time, I mean, I’m on my phone. My phone is, outside of being a phone and communication, it’s an information hub,” Johnson said. “Seems like Twitter is probably the quickest news source at this point.

“So yeah, I’m calling people and texting people. I’ve got my weather apps. I’m looking at everything, constantly trying to get updated with what’s going on. There’s actually a lot of video streams from, I guess you call them skyscrapers in Cedar Rapids, that I can visually monitor what’s going on with the river. So I was doing all of that.”

And just ending on a lighter note with the Ryder Cup competition this week, Johnson said Thursday that he looks at the next few years of his career as an opportunity to win more tournaments and to “have the opportunity to win majors.”

But he’s also well aware that in his previous four Ryder Cup appearances in 2006, 2010, 2012, and 2014, the U.S. team has yet to win. In fact, on the current U.S. squad, only Phil Mickelson and J.B. Holmes participated in a winning effort.

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