One of the first to congratulate Zach Johnson on his victory was the history slayer’s principal victim, Jordan Spieth, which tells you an awful lot about the quality of golf required to win the Open Championship and the character of the vanquished.
“Wow. Almost. Nothing quite like the Open at St Andrews. We fought hard. Very proud of a role model and friend of mine, Zach Johnson,” Spieth said in a Tweet after waiting by the 18th green to wrap an arm around his friend and the champion.
Spieth’s attempt at a third major in a row came to grief at the 17th hole, the bogey costing him a place in the three-man play-off won by Johnson from Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman over four extra holes.
Johnson, a devout Christian from Iowa, began the final day three off the lead and required a birdie at the last to reach the play-off with a 66 for a 15-under-par total. He revealed how reciting religious verse helped him race to a birdie-birdie start at holes one and two in the play-off and close out with a par on his second visit of the day to the 18th after all three contenders had bogeyed the Road Hole.
“It’s Psalms 24:17, and it’s ‘Be patient, wait for the Lord. Be courageous and brave. Yes, be patient, wait for the Lord.’ Just little things that help along the way. Gets me down to my priorities,” he said.
The 39-year-old Johnson, by his own admission, is not one of the game’s poster boys. “ I’m just a guy from Iowa that has been blessed with a talent,” he said, though he is more than that. The Open at St Andrews is added to the Masters won eight years ago. That takes some doing wherever you are from.
Johnson prospers via those time-honoured if unfashionable qualities, effort and persistence. He doesn’t hit it a mile, but when he finds his rhythm he has enough game to get it around and, like Spieth, he is lethal with the putter.
“When my game is good, certainly I surface on the radar. I don’t know if it’s ever really beeping on me. But you know, I said it back in 2007. I feel like God gave me the ability to play a game. I try to take it very seriously.”
As good as it felt to win at Augusta in 2007, nothing tops this, according to Johnson. “It’s a feat and an honour to be invited to those tournaments, and to win at Augusta and to win the Open Championship at St Andrews, it’s hard to put it into words.
“As a golfer, as an athlete, as a guy, I’m not rich in history, I can tell you that. I’m not a great historian. But I do know that this is the birthplace of a great game and a place that has fantastic fans. It may sound corny because look what I’m holding, but it’s probably my most fun golf tournament inside the ropes. Ryder Cup is the Ryder Cup, Augusta is Augusta, I get that. But I just respect and appreciate what this tournament is all about and I could go on and on about that. It’s the best.”
Honour and pride were the dominant emotions expressed as he fell first into the arms of his wife, Kim, and then into possession of the Claret Jug. There are few walks in sport as great as that across the 18th green at St Andrews to take possession of the oldest pot in golf.
Johnson knew he was not the man the people had come to see and in keeping with the sporting values already upheld, he paid tribute to the kid who came so close to making golfing history.
“He [Spieth] said congratulations and that he was proud. He is a really good friend of mine. I can’t describe the magnitude as to what he was going through because I’ve never been in that position. We haven’t seen that with the exception of Tiger, right?
“Truthfully, he could be sitting here. He’s made his share of putts over the last odd months, but to have a champion like Jordan take the time on 18 to give me his best wishes, and certainly Mike, his caddie, speaks volumes as to what he is. He’s a phenomenal talent and, I’m telling you right now, he’s a better person than he is a golfer.”Reuse content