On The Hot Seat: Zach Johnson
Talk about a Hot Seat. As one of four rookies on the U.S. Ryder Cup roster, Zach Johnson will face his fair share of pressure when the international competition commences Friday at The K Club.
To ready him for the proceedings, ESPN.com put Johnson on its own Hot Seat, questioning the Iowa native on everything about the Ryder Cup, including whether a loss by his beloved Hawkeyes could ruin an otherwise successful weekend.
Q: What thoughts will be going through your mind when you're standing over that opening tee shot in your first match at The K Club?
A: I hope it's just target and tempo, but I've got a feeling I'm just going to be completely caught up in the moment and I just hope I can take it back.
Q: A few butterflies in the stomach?
Q: Is that going to affect you?
A: I don't think so. I don't get first-tee jitters very often, and I don't think I'm going to have first-tee jitters at the Ryder Cup. I think it's going to be more like first-tee mental and muscle spasms.
Q: Has U.S. captain Tom Lehman given you any sense of how much you'll play during the first two days?
A: No, he has not.
Q: Any idea who you'll be paired with?
A: Yeah, I've got an idea, but I don't know for sure. I'm not so sure I can tell you.
Q: Do you have a preference?
A: No, I do not have a preference.
Q: And how about your opponent in Sunday's singles match? Would you rather face a fellow rookie like Henrik Stenson, or do you want a chance to be a giant-killer against, say, Colin Montgomerie?
A: Yes [laughs]. I don't care. It doesn't matter. They're all the opponent and it doesn't matter which one I'm paired with. I think bringing down a giant would be an unbelievable feeling, but you know what? As long as they don't take it personally, I'm not going to take it personally. I don't care who I play, I just want to beat him.
Q: There's been so much talk about all the first-time players on the U.S. side. Is there a feeling among the four rookies -- Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Brett Wetterich and yourself -- that you collectively want to prove the doubters wrong?
A: Well, I don't think we've discussed it as a group of four, but I don't think it necessarily needs to be discussed. You know, every year you're going to have rookies, you're going to have guys who don't have as much experience in these types of things. But look at the European team two years ago. They had five, we've got four, and I think they did pretty well. So when it comes down to it, I think it really does not matter.
Q: Do you buy into the notion that the U.S. is an underdog?
A: Well, yeah. I don't know if underdog is necessarily the right word, but we're probably not favored only because we don't have the Cup right now. They do. So you're only as good as the last time you played against each other, and they won. And they've got home-field advantage. So that's the way I'm looking at it.
Q: You've already had some pretty cool Ryder Cup experiences. Tiger Woods took all of the rookies out to dinner at the Bridgestone Invitational. How was that?
A: It was great. It was just a good way to get his perception on things, just kind of pick his brain and he can pick ours. He filled us in on expectations and what he thinks is the best way to go about it. I would say the best part about that evening was you could tell just how much passion he has for the Ryder Cup.
Q: He didn't stiff you on the check, did he?
A: No, no, no. He bought.
Q: The entire team traveled together to Ireland the week after that. What was your impression of The K Club?
A: My impression is that's it's a good club. It's an Arnold Palmer design, very much like a lot of American courses, maybe not quite that hilly, but very Americanized. Rolling hills, thick rough, undulating greens, very contrary to a links-style course. I think it's going to be a great match-play course because of the finishing holes especially, even the back-nine in general, the three par-5s. But 15, 16, 17, 18 are just going to be great, great finishing holes. And the club itself, the resort itself is fabulous.
Q: Going back to that trip, there have got to be some good off-course anecdotes, huh?
A: Well, yeah [laughs]. We had a good time together.
Q: Lehman intimated there might have been a few pints of Guinness consumed during the week. Can you confirm or deny?
A: No comment. No, yes there was. We certainly took part in the Irish tradition of Guinness beer -- and some others, for that matter.
Q: Let's play a little Take Your Pick. Would you rather play one singles match and win or play five matches and go, say, 1-and-4?
A: Well, one match and win, just because I'm a team player. I don't want to lose.
Q: Would you trade your lone PGA Tour victory -- at the 2004 BellSouth Classic -- for a U.S. win?
A: Well, you know, I don't think I'd be sitting here if it wasn't for that win. So, does that answer that question?
Q: Good enough. And if the U.S. wins the Cup, but your beloved Iowa Hawkeyes somehow lose to Illinois in football, will the weekend still be considered a success?
A: Absolutely. However, they're not going to lose. Frankly, I'm not worried about Champaign.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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2006 Ryder Cup
Where: The K Club, Palmer Course; Straffan, Ireland
Yardage/Par: 7,335 yards; par 72
2006 champion: Europe
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