If ever a statement perfectly defined the person who delivered it, the 2007 Masters Tournament champion nailed it in the hazy afterglow of his Easter Sunday triumph.
2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson
"I'm Zach Johnson, and I'm from Cedar Rapids, Iowa," he said. "I'm a normal guy."
It doesn't rank with Tiger Woods' introductory phrase, "Hello world." It wasn't as audacious as Muhammad Ali's "I am the greatest."
But not one interview since has transpired with Johnson that the Iowa tag line hasn't been brought up. His PGA Tour peers playfully lampooned it in a video produced for Johnson's homecoming celebration. T-shirts with the generic self-analysis were printed up and sold like hotcakes in the pro shop at his hometown Elmcrest Country Club.
"People have really clinged on to that," Johnson said with a laugh. "I'm just pretty normal. That was my point."
Johnson's simple heartland proclamation is apropos of the roots that grow deep in a state that boasts 25 percent of the nation's finest topsoil. Iowa is just that kind of normal place we remember from black-and-white TV icons such as Donna Reed, Harriet Nelson and the Beaver -- all Iowans. It's as American as John Wayne, Johnny Carson and Dear Abby -- Iowa natives all. It's as unassuming as Cpl. Radar O'Reilly and the Maytag repairman -- both Hawkeye-inspired.
Best-selling author Bill Bryson -- born and raised in Iowa until the time he left Drake University to chronicle the world -- admired his home state for the relentless simplicity of its landscape, life and people. The opening line of his first novel, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America , could have served as Johnson's crib sheet.
2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson
"I come from Des Moines," Bryson wrote. "Somebody had to."
Iowa isn't exactly a breeding ground for the flamboyant. It's a reality Iowans don't seem particularly concerned about, as Bryson again so bitingly put it in his childhood memoir.
"While other states in the Midwest churned out a more or less continuous stream of world-class worthies ... Iowa gave the world Donna Reed, Wyatt Earp, Herbert Hoover; and the guy who played Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy ."
Johnson is a fitting addendum to that sentence. If there is anything extraordinary about the Zach Johnson story, it's how blissfully ordinary it is.
He grew up in a normal, middle-class family learning middle-class values in a middle-class town in the middle of America. He was a good athlete, but never the star. The reigning Masters champ wasn't even the No. 1 golfer on his teams in high school or college.
"That's really what makes it a fascinating story," said Brian Rupp, the golfer who was No. 1 on Johnson's team at Regis High School. "I played quite a few rounds of golf with this guy. Collegiately, I played with a number of guys who are on the tour who I thought were really, really good back then. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought it's my good buddy who is going to be the guy who wins the Masters. It might have been 50 other guys who I played with that would have been considered first."
2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson
There were 55 other guys ranked higher in the world last April when Johnson succeeded in frigid conditions with a record-high winning score of 1-over par. A look at Johnson's career shows winning the green jacket was not an upset.
"I didn't anticipate (winning the Masters)," he said. "It doesn't surprise me, but I didn't anticipate it."
All Johnson did was work hard, get better and achieve something that made the world take notice. It's the perfect heartland sports tale, on par with farm boy-turned-baseball Hall of Famer Bob Feller, club pro-turned-U.S. Open champion Jack Fleck and grocery bagger/arena player-turned-NFL MVP Kurt Warner.
"People say he really came from nowhere," said Dave Johnson, Zach's father and a Cedar Rapids chiropractor. "Zach will say, 'Well, when I started, that's the way it was. But I just worked my way up and each year got better and better.' "
Johnson didn't come from nowhere. He came from Iowa -- and let everybody know it the minute he reached the top.
"How many athletes come back with a comment like that right out of the chute?" said Flip Klinger, a Cedar Rapids lawyer and one of the original investors who staked Johnson's career. "From what you read, most of them forgot where they came from 20 minutes after they got there. He has never forgotten where he came from."
An interactive display with memorabilia from Johnson's career was actually completed at Elmcrest Country Club a week before the 2007 Masters. Larry Gladson, Elmcrest's head professional, sent Johnson an e-mail with a picture of it and a brief note. "By the way," it said, "there's room for a green jacket."
(Annette M. Drowlette/Staff)
WHEN YOU TURN OFF the block-long stretch recently renamed Zach Johnson Drive and into the parking lot at Elmcrest Country Club, an etched-wood sign reads "Home of Zach Johnson, PGA Tour professional."
The entrance hall of the clubhouse leading into the main dining room has a shrine to the exploits of the club's most famous golfer.
"Zach was a little embarrassed about the thought of it," said Larry Gladson, Elmcrest's head professional for 22 years.
The display has the usual trinkets of a golfer's career: pictures of his Regis High and Drake golf teams; the Hogan carry bag he toted as a junior, including the set of odd-numbered Hogan Radial irons he wore out; a few trophies honoring everything from winning the 2001 Greater Cedar Rapids Open to being named Hooters Tour Player of the Year; a "Hush Y'all" placard from the 2004 BellSouth Open he won; a golf ball marked with his signature three crosses; and an autographed 2006 Masters flag signed to "ELMCREST C.C., Where it all started. Thanks for the support."
What sets this shrine apart is an interactive video monitor. Push one button, and you can watch a junior Johnson playing around the club or winning a local event and giving his first TV interview. Press another, and you see highlights from his Nationwide and early PGA Tour career. Press another for a deftly edited recap of the 2006 Ryder Cup. And the last button reveals about 15 minutes culled from the CBS broadcast of the Masters and Butler Cabin ceremonies.
It's first-class work. The display case was originally finished a week before the Masters, and Gladson sent Johnson an e-mail with a picture of it and a brief note.
"Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought it's my good buddy who is going to be the guy who wins the Masters," said Brian Rupp, who graduated from high school with Johnson in 1994 and played golf with him.
(Annette M. Drowlette/Staff)
"By the way," it said presciently, "there's room for a green jacket."
The pride this club and its members feel about Johnson is palpable.
But you won't find anyone who can honestly tell you they had any idea that Dave and Julie Johnson's oldest son would be an international star. The skinny little kid wasn't even the best junior golfer at his home club, yielding most of the time to Rupp. It was Rupp who accepted the scholarship to everybody's favorite school: the University of Iowa. The only Division I school to offer Johnson anything was Drake.
"I certainly was the better player in high school," said Rupp, who now works for local insurance giant Aegon. "Part of the reason was I was a little more physically developed. Zach was really small and really didn't start developing physically until he got in college. Probably midway through our college careers he had caught me physically. By the time he graduated he was a much better player than I was."
Until then, anyone in the membership would have predicted Rupp would be the one sponsored by Aegon as a tour pro rather than working for them.
"I think after high school, Brian's name was a little more recognizable than Zach's," Gladson said. "Zach was not in his adult body yet. Yes there were some players who were better than him and going through college there were some players who were better. But just measuring Zach's progress you could see he was continuing to get better."
Johnson's generic self-analysis was printed on T-shirts that sold like hotcakes in the pro shop at his home course, Elmcrest Country Club, where Larry Gladson, above, is a PGA professional.
(Annette M. Drowlette/Staff)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA, calls itself the "City of Five Seasons," a promotional slogan that even the locals admit is on the lame side.
"The fifth season is the one to enjoy the other four," Mayor Kay Halloran said, dutifully.
"We call it the city of five smells," said Klinger, alluding to distinct aromas emanating from the town's major cereal and packing industries.
Cedar Rapids boasts it is the only city in the world other than Paris with its government center on an island in the middle of its signature river. Outside the bulkheads of Mays Island, the similarities pretty much end. Its most significant cultural exports are the world's favorite Hobbit, Elijah Wood, and the guy who was the host of MTV's Punk'd, Ashton Kutcher.
It is, however, a good, solid place to grow up.
"It is very cliche, but I think it is true," Johnson said. "I don't know if it's the overall values that were instilled there or just the common ground. It's a work-hard state."
Johnson holds up his ball after finishing at 1-over par. He kissed his wife and son and waited. When Tiger Woods failed to hole out his second shot on No. 18, Johnson won his first major.
When you bring up sports and Iowa, most people think of wrestling. When Sports Illustrated drafted a list of the 50 greatest Iowa sports figures in 1999, Olympic medalist and Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable topped the charts.
Johnson sated his competitive thirst for sports all five seasons: soccer, basketball, baseball, tennis and golf. If somebody won and somebody else lost, Johnson liked it.
"He's a sports junkie," his father said.
Golf isn't a year-round endeavor in Iowa, but that doesn't mean it's not a golf state. Just about every small town has its own course, some of them rudimentary 9-hole layouts maintained by the farmers who play them. The junior circuit is robust, and there are plenty of places for the better players to graduate.
"I won 80 ribeye steaks at one tournament," said Johnson's swing coach Mike Bender, a former PGA Tour pro from Waterloo, Iowa. "We had steaks for the whole summer. That's Iowa."
A 10-year-old Johnson picked up golf when his family joined Elmcrest Country Club and he got involved in Gladson's junior program.
Julie and Dave Johnson, at home in Cedar Rapids, hold the front page the local newspaper published after their son's win. Johnson's parents worried at first about his plan to play golf.
(Annette M. Drowlette/Staff)
"The individual element of the golf game and playing against the course, that's what attracted me," Johnson said. "Having the ability to go play in college kept me going."
For the next nine years, summers were pretty much the same. There were 18 holes in the morning, some time in the pool, lunch, nine more holes in the afternoon.
"Every day," Johnson said. "That's how I got the love for the game."
The snow-covered winters offered Johnson the kind of break that only energized his interest. By the time spring rolled around and the course reopened, Johnson was hungry for another season.
"I played so many different sports I wasn't able to focus on one," he said of the athletic diversity he maintained even in college. "Kids nowadays are playing at 6 and in an academy or whatever 365 days a year. I don't think that's the way to do it, but that's just my opinion. I didn't have that luxury, and I'm glad I didn't. I put the clubs away every winter. But then the next year came around and I was just itching and anxious to play. I felt improvement every year."
SHORTLY AFTER GRADUATING from Drake, Johnson was back at Elmcrest playing a round with Rupp. It was one of the poorer rounds Johnson ever played with his friend, which made what he had to say afterward all the more curious.
"We were sitting there eating lunch, and all of the sudden he turns to me and says, 'Rupp, I think I'm going to give professional golf a shot,' " Rupp said. "I was very surprised. I remember saying, 'Do you mean like a club professional or teaching pro?' He said no, he was going to give the mini-tours a shot."
His friend politely kept his thoughts to himself.
"I remember my direct thoughts were he's just delaying the inevitable of getting a real job," Rupp said. "Because the odds were just so stacked against him. I wasn't going to say that because I was looking in his eyes and could see that he was really determined.
"The one quote I remember him saying like it was yesterday -- and it seems so prophetic now -- is 'The way I look at it, each and every year since I started playing I've improved. If I don't give it a shot, I'll never know how good I could possibly be.' He was right. ... I'm glad he didn't look at it realistically and I didn't say anything."
Johnson's mother wasn't as quiet about her oldest son taking his college degree to the Prairie Tour.
"I was very negative," Julie Johnson said, emphasizing her point with a grimace and enthusiastic thumbs down. "I'm very academic. I'm not a risk-taker. That's a problem with Mom. You never want to see your child fail. You could lose a lot of years with that lifestyle and traveling and never go anywhere with it. So I was very apprehensive."
Dave Johnson wasn't exactly optimistic, either.
"I figured the chances were one in a thousand, if that," he said. "A dime a dozen. There was no reason from his collegiate career to expect him to go out there and go gangbusters."
Being level-headed Iowans, the Johnsons approached the idea pragmatically. They sat down for lunch with two club pros who knew Johnson best -- Gladson from Elmcrest and Tom McCann from Cedar Rapids Country Club, where Johnson worked.
"Very candid," Gladson called the conversation. "I had seen in my profession people who had never gone out to give it a try, and they turn 40 and say they wish they would have and they think they could have. Zach was coming out of college and wasn't married and didn't have children or any responsibilities in the world other than to himself. If he went out and didn't do so good he could still pick himself up and go out and get a job. He had a burning question he needed to answer: Am I good enough to do it? He wasn't going to know it until he went out there and gave it a try."
They talked about what makes golfers fail: money. Sponsors were the only way to assume the burden and give Johnson a reasonable chance to reach his potential. Once that security was established with a formal sponsorship contract backed by family and club friends, Johnson headed to the Prairie Tour. It was just one month after graduation.
"I didn't know if this was the right thing," he said. "I knew I wanted to compete, and that's what drove me and still drives me. (If things started slowly) there definitely would have been some reconsidering if this was the best choice."
He finished sixth in his first event, fourth in the next. In his third pro start in June 1998 -- the Harvey's Casino and Hotel Championship -- Johnson won. His parents still have the presentation cardboard check for $3,500.
"He started winning and beating kids that he was getting beaten by in college," his father said. "He got away from college and got that academic burden off of him. That freed him up. Instead of working a job he was working at golf, which is what he loved."
Ten years, more than $10 million and one major championship victory later, Johnson's mother is starting to soften on the idea of her college-educated son playing golf for a living.
Does she still wish he'd studied to get his MBA?
"No," Julie said sheepishly. "But it took me awhile to say that."
She laughs that the green jacket gives them "three masters in the family" and still annoys her son with a running family joke.
"Zach, what do you have that Tiger doesn't have?" she asks.
"I know, Mom, a college degree," he answers, usually rolling his eyes.
"I just throw that in as a mom, but he doesn't want to hear it anymore," she admits.
AFTER EXCELLING on the Prairie and Dakota tours for two seasons, Johnson decided to live out of the trunks of his Mercury Tracer and Dodge Intrepid in a region more conducive to a full-time career in golf -- Florida. He moved near Orlando in 2000.
The golfer who had gotten better each year struggled in his first foray on the Nationwide Tour, missing his first six cuts and earning only $10,280 in 11 starts.
He met and started working with Bender on refining his swing, and the next season on the Hooters Tour started him up the ladder to success. He led the money list and won three consecutive events near the end of 2001, earning the nickname "Back-to-back-to-back Zach." He won again in 2002 and was second on the money list and reached the final stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School to earn conditional Nationwide Tour status.
Any doubts folks in Iowa had when Johnson started out were gone. He had what Bender refers to as "the knack."
"When I knew this guy was special was when he won those three Hooters Tour events in a row," Bender said. "There's a lot of guys that can shoot 66 but not many who can shoot back-to-back 66s. Instructors can show them how to practice and how to do things technique-wise, but you're not responsible for how good they are and how much heart they have. You can't teach that. So to get somebody who when they're under the gun have a knack to score and not get in their own way, then you take that person and enhance their skill. Now you've really got something."
Johnson was a little disappointed that his 2001-02 seasons didn't yield a full-time PGA Tour card at Q school. But that setback proved to be just another career blessing as he set out on the Nationwide Tour.
"I thought my game was ready and I was ready for the tour," he said. "I was very frustrated, but looking back on it the Nationwide was the best thing that could have happened to me. I needed it, without question. It taught me how to win and how to compete on a weekly and consistent basis."
Johnson won his second Nationwide Tour start in 2003 and went on to have one of the most dominant full seasons on the developmental stage -- two wins, nine top-three finishes and nearly $500,000. The only cut he missed all season -- by one shot -- could be blamed on a dented putter that had to be retired at the turn, leading to four bogeys on the back side.
With his PGA Tour card secured, Johnson needed a seasoned caddie to guide him at the next level.
Damon Green, Scott Hoch's regular caddie for four years, had played some friendly money games around Orlando with Johnson and offered his advice, recommending a tour caddie when they ran into each other at a club repair shop.
"You're No. 1 on my list," Johnson said.
"Man, I caddie for the human ATM machine," Green said. "I ain't going nowhere."
But Green went home and started studying Johnson's stats. He started having second thoughts.
"He was No. 1 in this and No. 1 in that and No. 1 in that," Green said. "I didn't remember this guy being that good."
Green asked his wife what she thought, and she told him he was foolish to consider picking up a rookie. Green disagreed.
"I'd hate to let something of this caliber slip through my fingers, because I'd be cussing myself the rest of my life," he said.
So after carrying Hoch's bag the first two weeks in Hawaii, Green fired Hoch and joined Johnson at his mainland debut in the Bob Hope Desert Classic in January. Eight events later, Johnson won the BellSouth Classic.
"Learning and winning at every level is what's got me here," he said.
His friends say taking shortcuts would never have suited him.
"The path he took to the PGA Tour probably helped a whole lot," Rupp said. "He was never one of these junior phenoms. At every level he was never really thought of as the No. 1 player. He just did it through hard work."
FOR ALL IOWA DID to shape Johnson's career, his championship mettle was formed in Ireland.
As one of four rookies on the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2006, Johnson was under plenty of pressure. The American team was a decided underdog on foreign soil against a formidable European squad. Johnson desperately wanted to be a part of the event to see what he was made of.
"I wanted to play in that tournament so bad," he said. "My game rose when it needed to."
And while the Americans left The K Club the victims of a second straight bashing, Johnson came home a relative winner, with a 1-2-1 record.
"He was the shining point of our U.S. team," Green said.
"On an incredible world stage, right then and there he looked like he belonged out there," said Gladson, who saw the event firsthand with plenty of other Iowans.
Johnson was the only American to face all three Irishmen. In Sunday's singles, Johnson got the hardest draw -- against Darren Clarke, who carried the heart of his team and his nation after losing his wife to cancer just months earlier. It was a no-win situation for Johnson, and he finally conceded the match on the 16th green, sparking fans to rush the fairway to celebrate the European victory.
"It was unbelievable," Johnson said. "Darren made putts from everywhere. He was apologizing. I was not supposed to win that match. I was trying as hard as I could, but I was not supposed to win that match."
He wasn't supposed to win his debut alternate shot match with Chad Campbell, either. After draining a birdie putt on top of Padraig Harrington's chip-in on 15, they were two down to Harrington and Paul McGinley with three to play. Johnson faced a daunting second shot on the par-5 16th. Laying up was not an option, with 240 yards to carry the river and hit the narrow target.
"Zach, you have to go for it," Green told him. "He pulled the shot off with the 3-wood, and we win the hole."
Johnson chipped in on the 17th to square the match, then hit another 3-wood approach over water to the par-5 18th to secure a half-point.
"From then on I was telling people that was a life-changing experience right there," Green said.
"The 16th, 17th and 18th where he had to hit clutch shots, I've never felt more pressure for an individual even at a major," Bender said.
The next morning, Johnson rattled off a string of birdies to lead himself and Scott Verplank to a best-ball victory over Harrington and Henrik Stenson.
The experience proved to Johnson what he was capable of on a major stage under extreme pressure, which he put to use seven months later at Augusta.
"In my opinion, the Ryder Cup catapulted him to that victory," Bender said.
Johnson agrees. "Executing and performing at a high level in that arena certainly helped me at Augusta. There's a lot of parallels."
SO ZACH CAME into 2007 a different player mentally. He was refreshed from taking seven weeks off before his wife, Kim, gave birth to their son, Will, in January.
Though he'd never had a top-10 finish in 11 major starts, Johnson now considered himself a viable contender in the biggest events. He missed the cut at Augusta as a rookie in 2005 but was boosted by his Sunday 70 in 2006.
"It just gave me the realization that I could play a good round here," he said. "Who knows? I could have a good week."
During that extended off-season layoff, Johnson had worked diligently on his wedges to make the incremental differences that determine majors. Though he was still ranked 56th in the world and had not won a tour event in three years, his confidence ranked among the elite.
"Zach knew, too, that he'd never been that good in a major," said Dr. Morris Pickens, Johnson's sports psychologist. "He'd never worked that hard and never had been at a major as that good a player. This wasn't the same guy that showed up at the PGA eight months ago. He had improved certain parts of his game and how he managed himself mentally around the golf course."
Not even those closest to him thought Sunday would end with a victory. He was three shots behind leader Stuart Appleby and one shot behind Tiger Woods.
Standing up in the back of an Augusta Catholic church for the packed Easter service, his father just prayed for a nice, solid finish.
"We talked about the day during breakfast at Waffle House and thought a top-five or top-10 finish would be nice," said Dave Johnson. "So I never ever went there as far as winning."
Even Johnson wasn't thinking victory. Of all the majors he thought he might get a chance to win, the Masters was last on his list. But he was in the hunt.
"I'm not supposed to win," he said. "In the media's eyes and the eyes of my peers and the eyes of the fans and even myself at the time, the pressure was off. I felt nerves, but why should I? Go out there, have fun and freewheel it."
Trying to win was a trap Pickens refused to let him fall into.
"All he could do was play that Sunday," Pickens told him after driving back to Augusta from Sea Island for some final-round counsel. "He couldn't play that Sunday for the five-year exemption or for the rest of his career or to prove that he belongs or any of that kind of crap. He could play that Sunday only. He could play that golf course called Augusta National, and not this tournament called the Masters. He needed to play 18 individual separate holes and see how he did when he got done."
After opening with a bogey, Johnson was playing pretty well despite the frigid conditions.
"There's only been a couple of times in my career watching golf where I saw a player whose every swing from wedge to a driver looked the same," said Bender. "It never looked like it was a different club. That's exactly the way Zach was that day. Every shot was the same. Same motion. Same rhythm. Same tempo."
When Johnson chipped in on No. 8 to climb into the mix, his supporters' expectations didn't change. Nor did they when he birdied No. 13 to take his first solo lead. Another birdie on 14 let them believe at least he had an opportunity. A par at 15, coinciding with Woods' eagle two holes behind, didn't raise their confidence.
But when Johnson drained his eight-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th to take a three-shot lead, suddenly the reality of what was happening hit everyone.
"That's the point then when Kim and Carol (her mother) and I talked about someone having to go get the baby who was off-site at day care," said Dave Johnson.
Back in Iowa, his friends were riveted.
"It was almost like watching a football game," Rupp said. "I was yelling and screaming at the TV. It's a feeling I've never experienced watching a sporting event. After 16 I turned to my wife and said, 'I think Zach is going to win the Masters.' I was probably more nervous than he was the last couple of holes."
When Johnson chipped to within inches on the final hole and tapped in for par and kissed his wife and 3-month-old son, they could only celebrate his performance. When Woods failed to hole out his second shot on the 18th, the green jacket was Johnson's. He called the experience "surreal."
"There's no other way to describe it," his father said. "It's not like it's dreamlike. You see it all happening and can remember so many things, but it's still kind of hard to believe it's happening."
Johnson's underdog heartland tale had prevailed.
"The golfing world, I think they were ready for somebody like Zach to win and beat Tiger," said Bender. "I think the timing of it was perfect."
While Johnson seemed to handle it all in stride, the impact of what he accomplished resonated with everyone around him. His younger brother, Gabe, collapsed behind the 18th green into his father's arms, weeping when Johnson's final putt fell.
"With our grandfather passing away and Will being born, it was just a really good feeling, and a lot of emotions came out," Gabe said of the roller-coaster start to 2007. "Unbelievable experience. Those few hours can never be relived. I don't know what could possibly top that."
In Iowa, his mother struggled to even watch.
"I did come out and see 18 and saw the great chip," she said. "I watched Tiger's last two holes, and when his last shot didn't go in I crumbled. My sister had to drive me home. I was emotionally, physically and mentally drained."
Friends and associates experienced similar stories. And the people most involved with helping Johnson develop into a champion were filled with pride.
"Very surreal to be in the Butler Cabin after the tournament to see one of our little junior golfers out there with a green jacket on his back," said Gladson, who flew to Augusta after his daughter's Saturday engagement party and got swept into all of the post-round traditions.
"If you think about, what are the chances of any teacher taking a guy from the Hooters Tour and he goes on to win a major championship?" said Bender, who watched at home in Orlando. "It's one thing to work with a Lee Janzen, somebody who's already on tour and the potential is up there and they win a major. But to go along through every stage, it will probably always be the highlight of my teaching career, without a doubt."
A DAY AFTER WINNING the Masters and promising to never change, Johnson was walking through Times Square wearing the green jacket and blue jeans (a faux pas that initiated a polite phone call from Augusta National explaining that the rules of decorum frown upon the juxtaposition of the trademark coat and denim).
The talk show elite were lining up to speak with the new champion -- David Letterman, Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa, Oprah Winfrey ...
"It was a very out-of-body experience, actually," Johnson said of the media circus.
He had a short stretch of Oakland Avenue leading to his home club named after him and was feted by the governor with his own day and celebration inside Iowa's Capitol.
"It's all mind-boggling," Johnson says of the fuss he generated. "I don't like that stuff, but it comes with the territory. It's the nature of what I've done. If these are problems, I don't want them changed. These are great problems."
That Johnson is mentioned in the same sentence now with Fleck and Feller and Warner and Gable humbles him.
"You have a number of great athletes come from that state, but to have the means to vault you to the next level and the next level beyond, it's just not always at your fingertips in the state of Iowa," said Johnson. "You have to make the best of what you have."
Beyond that, nothing else changed.
"To me the way he's looked at as a nice young man and handles himself well, if he didn't act that way we would be disappointed," his father said. "So in that sense it isn't that big of a deal. He is what he is. He's blessed to be playing a game for a living and making the kind of money he does. He doesn't want that to change him, and his wife certainly won't let that happen."
Johnson has had to learn how to say no more often. He wears a baseball cap in public more often when he's in Iowa to decrease the chance of being recognized. He turned down trips to play in China, Japan, South Korea and Germany. He resisted making any significant changes to his equipment or endorsements. Johnson keeps following his plan: work hard and keep improving.
"You were doing good stuff three years ago when nobody knew you and you were improving. Just because you won the Masters doesn't change that," said Pickens. "We don't think he's tapped out as far as how good he can play. Let's keep searching for that."
Some have portrayed Johnson's Masters win as a fluke. One prominent magazine columnist infuriated Johnson's family by claiming he'd be just another one-hit wonder like Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel and Todd Hamilton -- guys who haven't won anything since their lone major triumphs -- and suggesting that 10 years from now Johnson might be waiting tables at Olive Garden.
"I think a lot of people clearly look at me as an upset," Johnson said. "I'm never offended. A lot of it comes from being misinformed."
Johnson's agent, Brad Buffoni, planned to send the ill-informed columnist an Olive Garden gift certificate after Johnson won again six weeks after the Masters at the AT&T Classic.
Johnson has his eyes on more majors -- particularly the ones more conventionally suited to his control game.
"The best thing about Augusta is that it's given me the realization that I can win at the highest level," Johnson said. "The most encouraging thing about that week is I know I can improve in all aspects of my game. I play at the highest level in every event now. Every major, WGCs, Presidents Cup, Ryder Cup, even the World Cup. The experience is there. Now it's just getting the motivation and drive to want to get better. I think I have that."
Johnson is comfortable in his new realm. His family is still adjusting to being affiliated with the guy they teasingly refer to as "the Tiger Woods of Iowa."
"First off, I lost my identity anyway when he got on the PGA Tour -- I became Zach Johnson's dad," Dave Johnson said. "Then after winning this I definitely lost it. This is Zach's dad, yada, yada, yada. That's OK. It's not that I don't like it. It's just weird and strange. All this publicity and newfound fame has reinforced to me that it gets blown out of proportion. It should not be that big of a deal. They're playing a game for a living, and they're good at it."
Whatever happens next is likely to be taken in stride by Midwestern sensibilities.
"The womenfolk in this family have a saying," said his mother. "Whenever anything goes wrong we just say, 'Oh well, he won the Masters.' "
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or email@example.com.