Sports

Zach Johnson loves playing at Augusta National

Cedar Rapids pro remembers his first tour around course

Zach Johnson, practicing on Tuesday, said Augusta National is one of his favorite places. (Associated Press)
Zach Johnson, practicing on Tuesday, said Augusta National is one of his favorite places. (Associated Press)

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Zach Johnson plays in his 16th Masters starting Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club.

Johnson has played consistently of late, coming off a tie for eighth in the U.S. Open among three top 25 finishes in his last four tournaments.

“The game feels very good, ball-striking has been excellent,” Johnson said. “I probably need to score a little better and be a little bit more precise with the wedges and getting up and down. Around the greens is probably priority one right now. Obviously putting goes without saying, it’s important every week.”

Around the greens was something Johnson was working hard on earlier this week on the course and its expansive practice facility. He’s ranked 160th on the PGA Tour in sand save percentage and 122nd in scrambling (a golfer’s average of getting up and down from a missed green).

His goal to improve around the greens makes plenty of sense.

Johnson also knows Augusta National well. He knows if an approach is at all off on these greens, there is going to be pay the price.

“It’s pretty obvious where you have to go, but it’s not as obvious where you can’t go at Augusta,” Johnson said. “I think this is a place where you gotta know where to miss it in certain instances, this is definitely a place where you kind of know ‘OK, I can be aggressive to that pin or on this putt,’ whatever it may be.

“Those nuances take time to learn.”

During Johnson’s first Masters in 2005, he didn’t arrive on the property until Tuesday because of a late Monday finish in Atlanta the week before. Johnson was defending his first PGA Tour win at what was then the Bell South Classic.

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“We had a Monday finish and I think I played 27 holes in Atlanta on Monday of Augusta week,” he said. “So the first time that I ever really set foot on the place was Tuesday.”

He missed the cut that year.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Johnson said. “This is a place where the more you play it the better you are.”

It’s also a course and a major championship he loves dearly.

“It’s hard to describe what this means,” Johnson said. “It’s one of my favorite places to be, let alone compete, and I always feel welcome coming back. I always feel part of a small family here and it’s just ultra-special knowing that I can come back essentially every April-slash-November.”

Garrett Johnston has covered golf for 10 years and also hosts the Beyond the Clubhouse golf podcast.

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