Sports

PGA Championship doubles down on Zach Johnsons

Accomplished pro from Iowa and Utah namesake both in major tourney

Zach Johnson of Cedar Rapids and Zach J. Johnson of Farmington, Utah, greet each other on the practice range of Bellerive Country Club Wednesday at the PGA Championship in St. Louis. Both are playing in the tournament. (John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports)
Zach Johnson of Cedar Rapids and Zach J. Johnson of Farmington, Utah, greet each other on the practice range of Bellerive Country Club Wednesday at the PGA Championship in St. Louis. Both are playing in the tournament. (John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports)
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ST. LOUIS — This is a tale of two Zach Johnsons.

One flew in to St. Louis for a few hours last week to get acquainted with the golf course at Bellerive Country Club, then headed to Akron, Ohio, to compete in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th place and earned $104,250.

The other was working in the pro shop and giving golf lessons last week at Davis Park Golf Course in Fruit Heights, Utah.

But they’ll live the same life at the same time Thursday afternoon when they play in the first round of the PGA Championship at Bellerive.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Zach Johnson, Cedar Rapids native, 12-time PGA Tour-winner, two-time major-championship victor, five-time Ryder Cup participant.

Now meet Zach Johnson, winner of the 2013 Utah Open and assistant pro at that aforementioned suburban course near his home in Farmington. He, along with Solon’s Sean McCarty, qualified for the PGA by finishing in the top 20 at June’s PGA Professional Championship in Seaside, Calif.

Since the lockers in the Bellerive clubhouse were assigned by alphabetical order, Zach Johnson’s is next to Zach Johnson’s. Or, rather, Zach J. Johnson’s. That’s what the PGA “asked” Utah’s guy to be known as this week in order to distinguish the two.

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“I’m not too upset about that,” Utah Zach said in that locker room on Wednesday.

By the way, his middle name is “J.” Just the initial.

If you are prolific at golf and have the name of a well-known pro, it’s got to cause some confusion. But it hasn’t been anything that’s caused heartburn.

“It’s definitely been a topic of some lighthearted fun,” Utah Zach said. “In Utah, I’m known as ‘our Zach Johnson’ or 'the local Zach Johnson.’

“When Zach won the Sony Open (in 2009), the PGA Tour sent me his official score cards in a plaque from (then-Tour commissioner) Tim Finchem.”

Young Zach (he’s 35, while Zachary Harris Johnson from Cedar Rapids somehow already is 42) nicked the plaque when he cut open the package. Presumably, the elder Zach wasn’t angry once the souvenir was redirected his way.

The two Zach Johnsons had never met until Monday.

“We crossed paths at family dining (in the clubhouse),” Utah Zach said. “I jokingly walked up to him and said ‘I have to introduce myself.’ He was very cool about it, very welcoming.”

The Utahn was a friend of McCarty’s before they arrived to this tournament, both as first-timers. Johnson won the individual title at the 2015 TaylorMade Invitational in Los Cabos, Mexico, and McCarty’s team won the low gross.

Like the famous Zach Johnson, Utah’s guy played mini-tours as a young pro. But that’s as far as he got, and he’s been a club pro for 10 years who is happy doing what he does for a living in his home state, and delighted to be here.

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“This couldn’t be any better,” he said. “I’m in a major championship. I’m excited and ecstatic. It’s all gravy.”

Iowa Zach wants more than gravy here. Besides pursuing a third different major title, he wants a strong performance to make a good impression on this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup captain, Jim Furyk, whom he and Stewart Cink played a practice round with Wednesday. Eight spots on the team will be determined on points Sunday, then Furyk will make four captain’s picks next month.

“I feel great,” Iowa Zach said here Wednesday. “My game feels good. Now it’s matter of execution. Everything’s on go.”

Asked if he will be the low Zach Johnson in this tournament, Iowa Zach declined to make a prediction. But he did say “I hope I am. And I hope he’s one shot behind me.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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