05 Sep 2023

Zach Johnson – Up for the Cup

As the golfing world eagerly anticipates the next chapter of the Ryder Cup, the spotlight turns to the two Captains who will guide, inspire, and strategise on behalf of their respective teams.

No role carries quite the weight and prestige as that of the Ryder Cup Captain. As fairways transform into battlegrounds and greens into arenas of camaraderie and competition, the Captain steps onto the stage as the conductor of a symphony of talent, strategy, and passion.

For Luke Donald and Zach Johnson, the role of Captain is arguably the pinnacle of their respective careers, which has seen Donald reach the summit of the game as World No.1 and Johnson collect two Major Championships at The Open and Masters Tournament.

We caught up with the duo ahead of this month’s biennial clash to find out more about the work that goes into the role, what we can expect in Rome and their inspirations from golf’s greatest contest.

You can find Zach Johnson’s responses below and Luke Donald’s here: LUKE DONALD – READY FOR ROME

Worldwide Golf: Steve Stricker got six Captain’s Picks rather than four last time out. Did you decide to stick with that formula due to the success of the team at Whistling Straits, and why do you think six picks is better than four?

Zach Johnson: Having the freedom of six picks just made sense…especially given the landscape of professional golf right now. The main reason for six picks is because it’s an “away game” and there could be the potential in formulating a team based on the golf course and what that course demands.

WWG: How important is your trip to Marco Simone Golf & Country Club two weeks before the event going to be, given the fact that none of the leading U.S. players have played in the Italian Open since it moved there?

ZJ: The practice round trip to Rome to play Marco Simone is just massive. It gives the team the ability to see the course before the week of the tournament. It is great from a team building standpoint, more time together the better. If there is foul weather during the prep time of the Ryder Cup week, our guys won’t feel rushed to play more rounds. It also is an unencumbered time away from media, fans, etc to just work!

WWG: Just following on from that, have any of the players been to play the course at all? If so, what has the feedback been like from them?

ZJ: Not to my knowledge.

WWG: Team USA are looking to end a 30-year drought on European soil this year. What do you think has been the key to that home success for the Europeans and how do you put a stop to it?

ZJ: Well, the European team is just really good! The Euro fans push them and they respond. The system they’ve implemented has proven to be successful. They seem to figure out proper tandems that yield efficiency and success. For Team USA, the past is the past. This is a new team with new players on a common mission. If we embrace the difficulty of the situation and acknowledge the magnitude of the situation, all this becomes is a great opportunity to do what they do best…compete. That simple.

WWG: Your four Vice Captains, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Fred Couples and Davis Love III, have plenty of experience in the game and competition. What standout qualities does each player bring to your team and how much have you leaned on them in the leadup to the event?

ZJ: All of my VCs are just tremendous people first of all. They are willing to serve, that’s admirable. They want what is best for the players. Period. I will lean on them for a number of items from the most mundane to the heaviest of issues. They all have an immense amount of experience in the game and as leaders. The younger generation really wants to be around these guys…which is huge! That synergy from the leaders to the players is vital.

WWG: The Ryder Cup is known for its intense atmosphere and pressure, especially when playing away from home. How do you mentally prepare yourself and the team for such a high-stakes competition?

ZJ: 1. This is a great opportunity to show off
2. Welcome the pressure
3. Want to feel uncomfortable
4. Embrace the difficulty
5. Fixate on where your feet are right now
6. Control the controllables

WWG: How much have you spoken to players over recent months? Is there daily communication? And if so, what about?

ZJ: I try to communicate to the potential team members on a periodic basis. I don’t want to bog down their thought processes so I just tell them to stay the course and try to win each week. The Ryder Cup will work itself out. Focus on your own golf rather than this September.

WWG: Which Ryder Cup player has had the most influence and impact on your career?

ZJ: I really cannot single any one player or person out. I appreciated how Payne Stewart conceded the 18th hole in 1999 to Colin Montgomerie, I admired how Darren Clarke found the courage to compete after his wife passed away (and I had to play him in singles!). I firmly give Seve a lot of credit for bolstering the popularity of the Cup all around the world, specifically mainland Europe. I love how all of my captains have led with a selfless agenda.

WWG: If you could pick three wildcards from any era of the Ryder Cup, who would you chose and why?

ZJ: Tiger Woods…he’s the goat. Ben Hogan, so intimidating. Jack Nicklaus, the OG.

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