Monday, April 09, 2007

From God's Grace to a Green Jacket

**Even if you aren't a golf fan, Jared Trexler takes you on a walk through newly-donned Masters champion Zach Johnson's life -- with a little golf thrown in**

By Jared Trexler
The Phanatic Magazine

Will Johnson really doesn't understand the gravity of this moment. Sucking on a pacifier and sleeping in the Serta that is his mother Kim's arms, Will is far more concerned with life's simplest treasures.

Split peas. Followed by a few firm pats on the back.

Yet, who Will Johnson really is took shape on Sunday afternoon at Augusta National, as his unheralded father took a major leap into golf's big time.

"Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so."

The Johnson family has a strong religious upbringing, and in turn a deep faith in fate and guidance from above. Zach thanked Jesus almost immediately in his post-round interview behind the 18th green and then again during the Green Jacket ceremony in Butler Cabin.

Jesus guided him, perhaps even his dimpled white ball, through Amen Corner of all places -- golf's version of the Sistine Chapel. Its hallowed history and extraordinary beauty bestowed by the workings of mother nature provided the setting for God's great work.

And if you don't believe -- believe in a higher being, Johnson's God or any other form prayed to by other worldly religions -- can you honestly comprehend what you saw Sunday at Augusta National?

A tour pro with just one career victory -- just over two years ago in Atlanta at the BellSouth Classic -- never showing the nerves that accompany the gravity of the moment. A calm head at 13 and 15 -- not trying to play hero, instead instilling faith in his game built on the ideals of such faith.

Once in control, hitting a six-iron stiff below the hole at 16 then stroking home the birdie followed by a ceremonious pump of the fist. The pump very well could have been directed above.

A three-putt bogey at 17 was more a product of Augusta's tricky false front than Johnson's crumbling demeanor. He still looked rather calm, flipping the shades forward to shield the setting sun and perhaps a view of Kim and Will behind the 18th green. They represented finality -- and a new wardrobe addition -- and there was still work to be done.

A deft chip off the right side of the final green again illustrated the steely nerves, and the final tap-in posted a number only Tiger Woods could match.

Not this Sunday. Woods' 120-yard approach to the 17th green found the bunker, resulting in Tiger's bewildered assessment, "What the hell was that?"

In Johnson's mind, it had nothing to do with hell. It was all predestined from heaven.

"I'm very lucky today," said Johnson. "I'm beside myself."

Not Will. He's just fine, thank you.

"He's an amazing addition to the family," said Johnson. "He wouldn't have cared if I shot 85 today."

"When the world says, 'Give up,' Hope says, 'Try it one more time.'"

And would anyone have been shocked if Johnson unraveled in the heat of the moment, ala Mike Weir in the PGA Championship at Medinah or even Johnson's Ryder Cup teammate Brett Wetterich during the third round of this very Masters?

His best finish in a major before Sunday was a tie for 17th. He played the Prairie Tour, something that sounds eerily similar to Spring-league high school baseball. (By the way, the season is right around the corner and I'm a huge fan of a certain player -- five-tool player I tell you).

He roamed the golfing landscape from Lincoln, Nebraska to Lawrence, Kansas with his first check putting $2,500 into his scarce bank account. His parents still have the poster-size replica, according to ESPN.com, but they or Johnson didn't cash it.

"I'm not Happy Gilmore," he said.

No, Gilmore hit the long ball. Johnson plays a methodical game, one that dominated the Hooters Tour and Nationwide Tour, but never placed him in the discussion to contend on the 7,400-plus yard track of redesigned Augusta National.

Yet, this was a strange week at Augusta. Temperatures dipped into the 50s and wind chills hovered in the mid 40s. Winds whipped through the towering pines at speeds nearing 25 miles per hour. The greens were rock hard and lightning fast. Scores reached levels not seen in over 50 years.

This was (Hootie) Johnson's dream, and (Zach) Johnson's tournament. Yet, it never would have been possible without love and support at life's crossroad.

Was he good enough? Was it financially feasible to travel the country by car and eat at every available Denny's after each round? Would one missed cut and a dwindling bank account end it all?

Those are life's questions. And in Kim and his parents, he found the answers. He found a resounding yes built in faith. An unwavering faith in Zach the golfer, and Zach the person.

If we all can be so lucky to find the person who not only allows us to chase our dream, but embraces it right along with us.

The strength of family -- another of Will's characteristics even as a young child. In just a few short years, he'll understand the love that surrounds him.

And one day, possibly after church and a large family gathering filled with hugs, handshakes and stories of the past, he will sneak into his father's bedroom and push open the closest.

He'll find a Green Jacket -- an aura-filled piece of clothing with many meanings. A new life of riches and fame, a new professional step for golfer Zach and a new, overwhelming sense of confidence.

But it won't define the Midwestern man, the staunch supporter of Kirk Ferentz and all Iowa athletics.

When asked, "Who are you?" in the post-round media room, Johnson never once mentioned the victory or the Masters Tournament.

Rather, he went back to his roots -- the same support system that carried him to victory Sunday.

"I'm Zach Johnson, and I'm from Cedar Rapids, Iowa," he said. "I'm a normal guy." And the father of a baby who will grow up the exact same way.
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Jared Trexler is The Phanatic Magazine's Golf Editor. He can be reached at jtrexler@phanaticmag.com
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