Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Zach Johnson still smiling, playing Heritage

After blowing in and out of New York City in 24 hours, dropping in on Letterman and Regis, getting some face time with Senator Barack Obama and Halle Berry, talking and talking some more about winning the Masters on Sunday, Zach Johnson could have politely called the folks at the Verizon Heritage and told them sorry, but he was just too burned out to play this week.

But he didn’t.

“I love everything about this place,” Johnson said Wednesday morning, meeting the golf media for the first time since sitting at Augusta in his green jacket Sunday night.

It’s a stretch to think Johnson will win here this week though conventional thinking would suggest his carefully managed game with wedge play that was good enough to win at Augusta makes this a perfect place for him.

The carryover effect from outplaying Tiger on Sunday and absorbing all the good things that come with winning the Masters are bound to catch up with Johnson at some point, perhaps somewhere around the turn on Thursday.

Johnson’s victory was refreshing. He just laughed when he learned that Tiger Woods – not him – wound up on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. That much hasn’t changed, though Woods is shown breaking his 4-iron around a tree, a shot that pretty much summed up the Masters.

Among the many good things about playing the Heritage – the course, the scent of saltwater in the air, the restaurants – perhaps the best is how relaxed it feels. After The Masters, where everything is magnified and pressurized, the Heritage feels like a beach weekend.

You see Ernie Els riding bikes with his family and kids wandering all over the place. Guys who played at Augusta share horror stories on the putting green and the guys who didn’t play listen in.

It’s where you’ll see Zach Johnson this week. He’s the one smiling.