By Michael Williams
GolfWRX Staff Writer
The list of golfers who idolize Ben Hogan is a long one. There is hardly a player amateur or pro who at some time has not incorporated Hogan’s legendary “Five Fundamentals’ instruction book in an attempt to capture some of Hogan’s legendary ball-striking ability.
Zach Johnson is a Hogan disciple, and this week he has added to his record of success at one of Hogan’s favorite Tour destinations, winning the 2012 Crowne Plaza Invitational by one stroke over Jason Dufner. Johnson collected his second championship at historic Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, a venue that Hogan conquered a record five times.
Johnson’s swing is a testament to Hogan’s method. Johnson’s is a modified version of Hogan’s compact action, with a one-piece takeaway, right elbow tucked tightly to the rib cage on the downswing and a crisp follow through designed to hit fairways and greens with numbing regularity. Johnson is also similar in stature to the Hawk, and that makes the similarities that much more striking. He even wears his golf shirts buttoned-up to the neck just like Hogan. He stops short of using persimmon woods and smoking Chesterfields, but otherwise Johnson is faithful in his tribute to the great Texan.
Like Hogan, the 36-year old Johnson is a product of the Midwest, born and raised in Iowa. He played all sports as a boy but he found something special when he took up golf at the age of 10. By his own admission he was never the best player on his high school or college teams (Drake University), but as he noted after winning the 2007 Masters, “[I] just keep getting better every year.”
A member of the PGA Tour since 2004, Johnson has carved out a place of respect amongst his peers. He now has eight wins on tour, most notably the aforementioned Masters where he outlasted Hall of Famers Tiger Woods and Retief Goosen to become first player outside the top 50 in the world rankings to win the Masters in the history of the ranking. Johnson has also been a part of two Ryder Cup teams and is a solid bet to be a member of his third later this year.
By any measure, Johnson has had great success in his professional career. But the one thing that is more solid than Johnson’s swing is his faith. A devout Christian, Johnson is quick to give credit to the man upstairs after every win. He has a Bible scripture on his ball along with the words “Trust Your Line”, and he is known to recite scripture on the course to calm himself. As it happened, he needed a little divine intervention on Sunday when his failure to replace his ball properly resulted in a two-shot penalty that could easily have cost him the tournament. Johnson acknowledged the gaffe with the same self-deprecating manner that makes him a favorite among fans and among his peers.
There are of course differences in the two men. While he is focused on the course, he does not have the legendary concentration of Hogan (other than vintage Tiger, who does?). And he also lacks Hogan’s frosty demeanor off the course; on the contrary is known for always having a kind or encouraging word, signing autographs until the fans stop asking and for his stellar charity work with kids in the community. A Google search for negative quotes or controversy about Johnson returns 0 results. Johnson is a golfer second, and a good man first. He is focused mainly on being a loving husband and father, and a model citizen on and off the course.
In the final comparison of Johnson and Hogan, you would always choose Hogan as your playing partner. But if you were choosing a neighbor or a friend, Zach Johnson would get the nod every time.