Photo: Matt Moran
A dream to become a champion, to become famous and to be considered one of the best in the world is one thing — to actually make it a reality is a rarity that few people are able to accomplish. Drake graduate, Professional Golf Association Tour member and Masters champion Zach Johnson is one of the select few who was able to make it big and live his dream.
Johnson is most well-known for taking home the title in the 2007 Masters tournament, one of the four annual major championships on the PGA Tour. He is prominent in the world of sports for his impeccable golf skills; but the talent and the skills originated right here in Iowa.
From a young age, Johnson loved sports. At the age of 10, he tried a new sport, golf, which was different than the other sports he played.
“The individual aspect of golf attracted me at a young age,” Johnson said. “It was a change of pace from basketball, soccer, etc.”
Johnson’s golf career began at Elmcrest Country Club in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Typical summer days for him consisted of golfing in the morning, eating lunch by the pool, golfing in the afternoon and then off to basketball or soccer practice late in the afternoon. Johnson took golf lessons at Elmcrest from Larry Gladson. According to Johnson, Gladson’s program taught him everything he knows.
“He was just your normal, healthy young man,” Gladson said. “He didn’t do anything that made him stand out above anyone else, other than the fact that he played exceptional golf. He was a great student and a great athlete.”
At a young age, Johnson played in a number of junior tournaments around Cedar Rapids and later advanced to traveling around the state, and even out of state, in his teenage years. Throughout high school, his golf skills increased and he excelled in several tournaments, including leading his Regis High School team to the Iowa class 3A state championship in 1993.
Following high school, Johnson attended Drake on a golf scholarship where he played under head coach Jamie Bermel.
“He was so excited about the opportunity to play Division I golf, and his parents were excited about the academic reputation of Drake,” Bermel said. “It was a good fit for everyone.”
Golf was Johnson’s primary focus throughout college. He said that outside of studying and some occasional intramural basketball, he didn’t have much free time due to golf. The hard work and time he put in proved to be beneficial after the team had great success during Johnson’s Drake Career.
“A small Division I school making a name for itself nationally was the highlight,” Johnson said. “We went to (the NCAA) regionals three times and (the NCAA) nationals once.”
Johnson’s coaches and teammates are familiar with his level of competitiveness. Johnson never seemed to settle — he always played to win.
“He always thought the best shot he ever hit was his next shot,” Bermel said. “He was never the longest or straightest hitter on the team, but he always felt he had the chance to win.”
Johnson proved to be a winner following college when he turned his passion for golf into a career by becoming a professional golfer. After playing in several tournaments, he qualified for the PGA Tour in 2004.
“Joining the tour was wonderful,” Johnson said. “It just meant that all the hard work I had put in over the years, the many mini-tours I played, the countless hotels I crashed in, the many sacrifices my folks made, the financial funding I raised back in Cedar Rapids, was all worth it.”
On April 8, 2007, Johnson reached the pinnacle of his golf career thus far when he walked away as the champion of the Masters Championship in Augusta, Ga. He won the 71st tournament by a margin of two strokes over runners-up Tiger Woods, Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini. Johnson said winning the Masters was a surreal experience. The tournament itself may have been mentally and physically challenging, but the publicity following his Masters victory was just as eventful.
“Immediately after, I had a media conference, interview after interview, an Augusta National (Club) member reception, more interviews, and then I got to bed around 1:30 a.m.,” he said. “It was exhausting.”
Johnson’s career has remained successful following the 2007 Masters, as he has competed in and fared well in numerous tournaments. He keeps busy playing in around 25 to 27 tournaments a year on the PGA Tour, in addition to several corporate and charity tournaments. He is on the road for about 35 weeks per year.
Johnson is a prime example of how hard work, determination and passion can lead tomaking a dream come true.
“Zach is like a diamond in the rough,” Bermel said. “He was, and still is, just a great person, a great Drake Bulldog and I am certain he has made a lot of Drake alumni proud.”
2007 Master’s Results
1. Zach Johnson (U.S.) +1
T2. Tiger Woods (U.S.) +3
T2. Retief Goosen (S. Africa) +3
T2. Rory Sabbatini (S. Africa) +3
T5. Jerry Kelly (U.S.) +4
T5. Justin Rose (England) +4
T7. Stuart Appleby (Australia) +5
T7. Padraig Harrington (Ireland) +5