LA QUINTA, Calif. – Zach Johnson was glued to the television last October as the U.S. rolled to another Presidents Cup victory at Liberty National. Sure, he was disappointed that he wasn’t there, but that sadness was short-lived.
“It’s still my team,” said Johnson, who has played on nine teams between the Presidents and Ryder cups in his career. Last year marked the first time in five years that he wasn’t selected to a Cup team.
He’s not about to miss out on his first Ryder Cup since 2008.
“That’s one of my big goals is to be on that team,” Johnson said. “Once you’re a part of one, you want to be a part of all of them. … That’s my team. They’re wearing my nation’s flag and I’m going to be pushing them as best I can whether it’s from the couch, walking alongside of them or playing with them.”
His play of late certainly indicates Johnson could be doing the latter.
Johnson, 41, hasn’t finished worse than T-23 in four starts this season. He’s coming off a T-14 finish at the Sony Open, which has pushed him to 10th in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings. (The top 8 make the team automatically.)
And through 36 holes of the CareerBuilder Challenge this week, Johnson is tied for fourth at 13 under. His 8-under 64 in Friday’s second round on PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament Course included six birdies on the front nine, his second nine of the day.
“He played his game: he drives the ball in play, he hits wonderful iron shots, especially wedges, and he putts well,” said playing competitor Phil Mickelson. “His game is sharp.”
Sound familiar? Yes, Zach Johnson is looking like Zach Johnson again.
After finishing 18th or better in the FedEx Cup standings in four straight seasons, Johnson ended up 57th and then 48th in each of the last two seasons. He won at least once in each season from 2012 to ’15, including grabbing his second major title at the 2015 British Open, only to have gone winless since.
“I thought (the past two seasons) were below average, if I’m being truthful,” Johnson said. “I know where my game can go and I feel like my best golf is ahead of me. … I’m not going to sit here and say I’m going to win five times this year, but I feel like the best part of my golf is from this point on.”
Johnson ranked 18th in strokes gained-tee to green, and gains shots in every ballstriking facet. He’s also 40th in strokes gained-putting, though he was 24th before Sony.
“I’ve seen the numbers – I’m kind of a stat guy, because they don’t lie, it’s facts – and I’m seeing some things that I’ve never really seen before in my game that’s encouraging,” Johnson said. “And then more so than that I think we have really kind of gone back to the roots of my game and my practice preparation time, both off weeks and on weeks, what I want to focus on. It’s not a matter of more or less, it’s just a matter of efficiency. So I like everything about that preparation. And I saw some good things last fall. That was part of it, and I saw some major positives that led into January so far.”
Captain Furyk is somewhere smiling.