Zach Johnson may be the Open champion – a former winner here, too, of course – but an announcement that he was about to appear in the Media Centre at Augusta National didn’t exactly set pulses racing.
Eighteen reporters were in the room when he started his pre-Masters press conference and only a handful of others drifted in late. Yet, it will be standing room only for Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, today and there won’t be many spare seats when both Rory McIlroy and Jason Day also offer their views ahead of the event’s 80th staging.
Johnson didn’t seem to mind the lack of interest in him, but he deserves better. Many, of course, believed he’d be a one-hit wonder when he claimed his Green Jacket in 2007. He made them eat their words, though, with a play-off victory over Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in the Open Championship at St Andrews last summer.
Now 40, Johnson is still relatively high, sitting 16th, in the world rankings. He is certain to be in the American side that will attempt to win back the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine in September. Having finished ninth here 12 months ago – his best performance since winning – he could easily get himself in the mix again on his 12th appearance in this event.
Few in the field, after all, have both the Claret Jug and a Green Jacket to their name. Johnson was reunited with the former on Sunday night and just the sight of it has given him a boost heading into the opening major of the 2016 campaign.
“I saw the Claret Jug last night for the first time in a long time and staring at that thing and touching it gives you a lift,” Johnson told The Scotsman. “My team – coaches etc – that I trust have had it and making them feel like they are part of a success like that is what it’s all about. I want it to be shared.”
This week is Johnson’s first opportunity to get a photograph with the two coveted prizes together due to only the current champion being allowed to take his Green Jacket off the property.
“I might try to introduce the Claret Jug to Mr Green Jacket, if you will,” he added, smiling. “That’s probably a rare thing. I don’t know history all that well but my guess is that doesn’t happen that often. I’m sure Tiger did it, you know, 12 times it seems like.
“Point is, my family and I try to orchestrate something like that. You’re talking about two of the biggest, iconic symbols in sports. To have that honour – to don the Green Jacket and drink out of the Claret Jug, which is a beautiful trophy – is pretty special.”
Johnson’s namesake, Dustin, could quite easily be sitting with two majors on his CV, too, by now if he’d been able to convert some great positions heading towards the business end in the game’s biggest events. The 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach, for example, was one that got away, as was the case in the same event last year, when he lost out to Spieth at Chambers Bay by three-putting from close range at the last. Sixth – his best effort in six starts – behind the same player in this event 12 months ago, Johnson insists he bears no “scar tissue” whatsoever from past disappointments and, in fact, is feeling quietly confident about his game heading into this week.
“I try to take every situation, good or bad, and just try to learn from them,” said the 31-year-old, who grew up not far from here in Columbia, North Carolina. “Even the US Open last year gives me a lot of confidence because if I’m in that situation on Sunday, I know I can get it done. I know I can hit the shots that I need to hit and put myself in position.
“Last year I felt like I played a little bit better around here. This golf course is one of those courses where all parts of your game need to be working. This year, I feel like I’m coming in with a pretty solid game. I feel like every part of my game is improving, especially with my wedges. I’ve been working really hard on my wedges and I feel like that’s improved a lot over the last six weeks and I think that’s something that’s going to help me around here.”
Help for Jim Herman, the last man into this week’s field after winning the Shell Houston Open on Sunday, came earlier in his career from none other than Donald Trump. The 38-year-old worked as an assistant pro at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey and was ranked world No 191 before making his PGA Tour breakthrough in in his 106th start.
“That’s some story,” Trump, breaking off from his bid to win the Republican nomination for the US presidency battle, told USA TODAY Sports. “He’s what America is all about. He never gave up, never gave up on his dream. I’m proud of him.”