CEDAR RAPIDS — As Zach Johnson walked around his home course in the ninth year of his charity golf event on a picturesque, sunny Monday, he said he doesn’t consider himself a celebrity. He describes having a statue of his father near the clubhouse as “awkward,” especially when people say it looks like him.
“I hit a golf ball, chase it and hit it again,” Johnson said. “Evidently, a lot of people think that’s pretty neat.”
But Johnson had enough influence to bring two nationally relevant singers to the Zach Johnson Foundation Classic at Elmcrest Country Club on Monday. Phillip Phillips, the 2011 winner of American Idol, and Eric Paslay, a Grammy-nominated country singer and songwriter, attended Johnson’s charity event for the first time.
Paslay did not know Johnson before the invitation to join the tournament, but the idea of helping kids resonated with the 36-year-old country singer.
“Both (Zach) and I believe in the same thing with taking care of those (kids) and making sure kids are fed and educating them,” Paslay said. “It excites me to see when celebrities help out people. I think it should be done all the time, and it’s cool to be a part of.”
Paslay already supports Habitat for Humanity and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, more commonly known as JDRF.
He tried participating in the ZJF Classic in previous years but always had a show the night of the event. He leaves for Nashville Tuesday to write more songs before leaving for a tour in California on Wednesday, but he’ll be back in Eastern Iowa to perform July 26 at the Johnson County Fairgrounds.
When asked what brought Phillips to the event, he had one word: “Zach.”
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“I’ve gotten to know Zach and his family over the last couple of years,” Phillips said. “They’re just super nice people and so generous, so I had to say yes.”
The admiration between Phillips and Johnson is mutual. Johnson said he and his wife are “massive fans” of Phillips, who also lives in from south Georgia.
Johnson and Phillips’ friendship blossomed after Phillips performed at Johnson’s wife’s 40th birthday party.
“She requested all these songs that I’ve written that not many people would know,” Phillips said. “I was like, ‘Oh gosh, she’s dedicated. She’s a dedicated fan.’ And we’ve been friends ever since.”
Johnson was not the only Phillips fan at Elmcrest Country Club Monday. He consistently had photo and autograph requests, ranging from kids a couple feet tall to a middle-aged man with gray hair.
Paslay had quite the group of admirers, too. After he finished the 18th hole, kids lined up to get pictures and autographs. Even after he walked away, a kid shouted his name, and he quickly ran back to take another picture.
“It’s fun,” Paslay said. “I’m glad kids want a little ink on their tickets.”
Yet Phillips and Paslay’s talents with a golf club don’t quite match their skills with a microphone. As Paslay approached his second stroke on the ninth hole, one fan suggested the ball might go farther if he was using his guitar instead of a golf club.
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Phillips’ shot from the left side of the fairway on the ninth hole hooked well to the right. It landed about 10 feet away from the parking lot, or as one volunteer described it, “gone, gone, gone,” in a reference to Phillips’ hit song “Gone, Gone, Gone.”
“I’m used to it,” Phillips said. “I suck at golf, so when they said the ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ joke, I was like, ‘Ah, that’s good. Very clever.’”
As Phillips attempted his first stroke from the eighth hole, a rapper rapping, “For a second I thought you were Dave Matthews,” didn’t help Phillips’ golf game. The shot looked more like a ground ball by Boston Red Sox second baseman Brandon Phillips than any type of golf swing.
Ironically, Phillips’ fivesome won the celebrity division with a score of 37-under par. Nick Nurse, the head coach of the NBA champion Toronto Raptors, and Micah Byars, the Iowa State director of basketball operations, tied for second place at 31-under.
Paslay’s group finished last with a score of 22-under.
Bryson DeChambeau’s fivesome won the professional division with a score 36-under. Six other groups in the professional division finished 30-under or better.
But most important to Johnson is the impact of the $1.1 million the event raised. It goes to benefit the Zach Johnson Foundation’s Kids on Course initiative, which aims to help kids “in and out of the classroom” with tutoring and other services.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to sit down with my board and relish the fact that we did a really good thing for the last two days for our community,” Johnson said.
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