Zach Johnson optimistic with game, eager to get back in winners' circle after two years without victory
Zach Johnson started this year with a pair of top 20s in the Sony Open and CareerBuilder Challenge. AP

HONOLULU — For more than a decade, Zach Johnson has held what amounts to an annual two-day summit to inspect every part of his game, figure out what needs to get better and make a plan going forward. He referred to the most recent meeting as the best one yet.

Johnson failed to reach the Tour Championship for the second straight year. He went a second straight season without winning, dating to his 2015 British Open title at St. Andrews. He was not at the Presidents Cup, ending a streak of five consecutive teams.

"I was frustrated because I thought my game was better," Johnson said. "What was good was that everyone threw it on the table. We mulled it over and said, 'OK, this is what we're going to do."

For all the stats that were analyzed, what stood out the most was that Johnson felt he wasn't as disciplined with his practice time and his focus. He did not describe any sense of urgency from going two years without a victory or failing to get to the FedEx Cup finale, though it raised questions.

"As a competitor, doubts creep in. 'Am I going to do it again? Do I need to make changes?'" he said. "It goes back to the basics. I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I'm practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses. You know what you've got. Use it. It can work."

Another aspect of that meeting — and this surprised him — was that Johnson found he had become too emotional on the golf course. Not only was he getting frustrated when his game was not going well, he said he was getting overly excited over a good round, even a good shot.

"The emotion of this game is not necessary until the 73rd hole, after the tournament is over," Johnson said.

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Even so, he had to contain some excitement leaving his two-day meeting last fall that included everyone involved with his game — swing, mental and fitness coaches, statisticians, his wife and caddie, friends that hold him accountable, even his financial adviser.

Johnson has high hopes for this year, and he was so eager to get going he played three times in the fall, finishing in the top 25 in all of them. He started this year with a pair of top 20s in the Sony Open and CareerBuilder Challenge.

Still to be determined is where it leads. Johnson might be the best proof that there is room for guys who don't blast it 300-plus yards off the tee. He has 12 victories, including major titles at Augusta and St. Andrews. He has played nine times in the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup.

He'd like to be part of the next one, especially after watching the last one from home.

"I haven't missed many in my career, and it stinks," Johnson said. "It was hard in a good way. My mindset was, 'This is my team.' I'm not on the team, but it's my team. ... Once you're part of that team, you're always on the team. I hope I get many more opportunities."

 

LPGA OPENER: The LPGA Tour season begins Thursday in the Bahamas, three weeks after the PGA Tour began in Hawaii. The concept of PGA Tour and LPGA Tour winners starting the year together at Kapalua lost traction last year, though it has not been ruled out.

"I think that's something we're still interested in," PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said.

That starts, however, with Wisconsin-based Sentry Insurance, which took over as title sponsor this year at Kapalua. The focus was on Sentry getting through the first year, so whether it would be interested in hosting two tours was not even a topic.

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"That's something that we'll continue to talk about as we go down the road," Monahan said. "And we'll continue to talk to the LPGA about it — if not here, how do we accomplish this at one of our tournaments?"

Monahan says he has spoken with LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan and "I would like to think that we'll get there at some point."

The only mixed events have been the Three-Tour Challenge in Las Vegas (PGA, LPGA, PGA Tour Champions), the Diamond Resorts Invitational (LPGA, PGA Tour Champions, celebrities) and the now-defunct J.C. Penney Classic, a mixed-team event back when there was a full plate of unofficial events in the offseason. Monahan said a mixed event for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo was discussed but didn't work out.

"We talked about the J.C. Penney format. That was a great event," Monahan said. "I think the reason discussions along those lines haven't progressed is because we've been focused on either this event (Kapalua) or different opportunities over that one. But that might be something that we do pursue."

There were 22 winners on the LPGA Tour. There was a 34-man winners-only field at Kapalua this year. Monahan said while the Sentry Tournament of Champions is not the only prospect, it is the most logical opportunity.

 

RAHM'S OUTLOOK: Jon Rahm's passion is on full display on the golf course. He developed a more introspective side in the summer after his sophomore year at Arizona State, and he believes it allowed his career to blossom.

"A lot of people make the mistake that golf is their life. I was one of those people," Rahm said in an interview at Kapalua. "I do get mad on the golf course. When I'm done playing, one hour after, it's over. It's gone. I allow myself to be frustrated at the mistakes. After that, life moves on."

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So he made a list of why he should be thankful and all the people who have helped him along the way.

"You realize how many people you have in your life," he said. "That makes you smile. There are so many things to be happy about. And once you separate them, it's better. I did that in the summer of 2014, and that's when my career really took off. The happier I am in life, the better golfer I will be, instead of thinking the better golf I play, the happier I will be. You can play great golf and be unhappy. It's what you do in life that's going to make you happy."

 

GWAA AWARDS: Billy Payne, who retired last year as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters, has been selected for the William D. Richardson Award for outstanding contributions to golf by the Golf Writers Association of America.

Payne, who promoted golf worldwide by helping launch the Asian Amateur and Latin American Amateur championships, will receive the award April 4 in Augusta.

The GWAA also voted Stacy Lewis as winner of the Ben Hogan Award for overcoming a serious illness or physical disability, and Ernie Els for the ASAP Sports/Jim Murray Award for his cooperation with the media.

 

DIVOTS: Bernhard Langer tied for 16th in his title defense at the PGA Tour Champions opener in Hawaii. It was his worst finish since Langer tied for 18th in the U.S. Senior Open last July. ... In his preliminary spring schedule, Justin Rose left the Dell Technologies Match Play off his list for the second straight year. ... The last time Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first start of the year was in 2009 at the Phoenix Open. He went on to match a career best with four victories that year. ... During his three-month break, Rory McIlroy and his wife took a road trip around Italy in a 1950s Mercedes convertible. ... Ryan Palmer earned 38 FedEx Cup points last week with his tie for 20th, more than enough for him to fulfill a minor medical extension and have full privileges the rest of the season.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Of the 83 players who have finished runner-up to Tiger Woods around the world, 18 of them are at the Farmers Insurance Open.

 

FINAL WORD: "I want to go places in the game." — Tommy Fleetwood.

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