I am a Zach Johnson fan. There I’ve said it. Even before the Masters win in 2007, before the Open, heck (I like to think) even before Zach knew he was cool. Why you may ask? The reasons are many but there are one or two that stick out.
The biggest reason is an article I read just after his Masters win in 2007. In it Johnson recounted how he had spent a sizeable time in his formative years as a pro on what is known as the Prairie Tour in the US. Some of the members of his home club, Elmcrest CC, even bought shares in him to fund his first foray into professional golf in 1999 – a $500 a share investment that must have his investors smiling all the way to the bank!
Secondly, I’m a huge fan of his ability to think outside the box as a shorter hitter in an industry dominated by the Dustin’s and Phil’s of the world. What’s there not to love about a guy who wins a Masters by playing every par 5 as three-shotter? Pure genius.
However, before I get accused of gushing about Zachary Harris Johnson too much just because he won the Open last month let me back up my defence with a YouTube clip from, 03 January, 2014. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vB06WBc9CNY)
In searching for something more to say in the August installment of Swing Thoughts, than how great I think Zach is, I stumbled on a three minute insert broadcast on Inside the PGA Tour last year.
In the first part of the segment Johnson explains how he has a “summit” with the influential people in his golfing career each year. This includes his coach, caddie, physiotherapist, fitness trainer and yes, even his sport psychologist. During this “team meeting” the focus is how he will get better during the following year.
Now I do realise that very few of our readers have access to all of these services but there is a very important psychological element at play in Johnson’s thinking. By discussing his plan with various people he is not only surrounding himself with support but he is also holding himself accountable to these people to improve.
You may not have all of the above specialists looking after you but the principle stays the same. By sharing your thoughts and goals with a spouse or favourite playing partner it serves the same purpose: accountability. Something that we all need at times as exhibited by the fact that Johnson has kept on having this “summit” yearly even though there was an eight-year break between his Major victories.
The following element that Johnson mentions is that his team has given him a training regime that he feels helps him to improve even though it may even just be two hours.
I would agree that very few of our readers ever get even two hours to practice (see Swing Thoughts July: Effective Practice) but regardless of the amount of time you get to practice Johnson’s focus is interesting to say the least. He describes how he has a menu of what to do in the time that he is training. So instead of bashing balls or making repetitive inefficient swings, he focuses on areas that help him to improve.
This is something that any golfer of any level or ability can do: draw up a plan. By designing a training plan you can not only see quicker improvement in collaboration with your PGA coach but you can also stay motivated to learn. It may even improve your efficiency in your training; something that the 2015 Open champion obviously puts a high premium on.
“I’ve embraced the fact that I am not the most powerful player, but I do know that I can consistently be in the top 10 on tour in driving accuracy”.
If there is one part of Zach Johnson’s approach to golf to emulate it is his acceptance of his shortcomings. However it does not end there: “What we have learned is that putts gained is not the tell-tale stat, BUT that stat separates the field typically”. So accepting your shortcomings is not enough, figuring out where the unfair advantage lies for you is just as crucial.
Johnson thus refuses to make gaining distance the be-all-and-end-all of his game as many shorter hitters do. Instead he puts a large part of his focus on short game accuracy and execution. In this way he focuses positively on what differentiates him as a player from his peers and this gives him confidence when the heat is on.
You might not always know how to differentiate yourself as a higher handicapper but by improving your mental game as well as your short game you give yourself a much better chance of competing. If you’re not sure that this Zach Johnson fan is right just ask Oosthuizen and Leishman.