DETROIT – Zach Johnson loves talking about the Ryder Cup.
Speaking at the Rocket Mortgage Classic last week, the US team captain invited questions on an array of topics related to this September’s road game for the Stars and Stripes. Johnson, winner of 12 PGA Tour titles and two majors among them, has the unenviable task of trying to end the US’s losing streak on foreign soil, which dates to 1993, in Rome at Marco Simone GC.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever been associated with in golf,” Johnson said of the biennial matches for which he represented the US as a player five times between 2006 and 2016, earning a cumulative nine points.
Johnson knows he’s got a tough task ahead of him but he also might have one of the deepest and most talented teams in some time – top six in points automatically qualify and then he can choose six more players to round out his team. Currently, 14 of the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking are Americans (including Will Zalatoris, who is sidelined with a back injury).
What role, if any, will Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have with Team USA? Has he lost any sleep worrying about the job? And why his wife, Kim, is headed to Rome on another fact-finding mission. Johnson touches on that and more in this Ryder Cup-specific Q&A.
Q: Are you trying to set up any special pairings this week to get a look at certain players?
Zach Johnson: I played with Collin Morikawa yesterday. He asked me to play. We haven’t played in a while. It was nice to play nine holes with him. Bottom line is this, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it is that keeping my eye on one individual would be irresponsible because one, every one of these guys is real flipping good and two, these designated events have made our points list very volatile . This field has a lot of really good American players.
My point in saying volatility is specifically going into the Spring, who would have thought Wyndham Clark, right? All of us out here knew he had immense talent, but it’s just a matter of connecting and executing things. He’s gone out and won two of the hardest fields in golf: US Open and Wells Fargo Championship. (In comparison, Euro team captain Luke Donald arranged to play with newly-minted pro Ludvig Aberg during the opening two rounds of the Rocket Mortgage Classic and raved to Sky Sports’s Nick Dougherty about the young Swede out of Texas Tech: “As long as he continues to show form, he will definitely be considered for the team… This guy is going to be a superstar.”)
Q: Does the recently announced partnership between the PGA Tour and PIF change things in any way for whether you want LIV players on the US team?
ZJ: That’s not really for me to say. It doesn’t really change anything. They were eligible before. The PGA points list is based on being a member of the PGA of America so they could garner points. What’s transpired in the last two or three weeks holds no relevance as to what I’m trying to do.
GWK: Should it make a difference for the European side?
ZJ: I don’t know how their side is structured.
GWK: Is it right that LIV players should be eligible for the US side but not the Euros?
ZJ: I don’t think it is for me to say. I think it would be extremely irresponsible for me to have an opinion on that because I don’t know all the facts.
Q: What’s the biggest thing you’re trying to do right now?
ZJ: Win golf tournaments.
I haven’t lost a millisecond of sleep over anything. I’m very pleased and secure with the individuals I have around me, from my PGA of America staff to my vice captains.
GWK: Have those all been named yet?
ZJ: I have one more left in my pocket.
I’m getting a little anxious to get over there and get started. My wife is going in a few weeks with the PGA of America. She’s got a lot to do over there. From a 30,000-foot view, it’s her responsibility as Captain-ness, as you would, to make that week as memorable as possible for everyone on the team involved. She’s got a lot on her plate and she’s loving it. She was there with me in October but now she’ll go back and start dealing with hotels, team rooms, logistics, floor plans, golf course stuff as well.
Q: Is there a captain you played for that you’re trying to emulate?
ZJ: I’m taking bits and pieces from all of my experiences. They all had their different ways of going about it. I think the great thing about Team USA is that we have some synergy and continuity year after year. We have a system that is proven and effective. It doesn’t mean we’re always going to win but it’s efficient but not rigid enough that it can’t take on the personality of the captain. I think we’ve seen that with Steve (Stricker), we saw that with Davis (Love), we saw that with Jimmy (Furyk). The foundation is good.
Q: How often has Tiger been calling you to talk Ryder Cup team and strategy?
ZJ: I just talked to him this week (during the Rocket Mortgage Classic). I’ll summarize it this way: He’s extremely invested in Team USA and whatever that looks like.
GWK: Can you give an example?
ZJ: He’s not going to be in Rome but he and I and the rest of the guys want him to be as involved as he wants to be in the discussions as much or as little as he wants to be, and that’s amazing. He’s probably going to be a captain, ideally at least once. He still pushes the needle and we want his opinion and we still want his opinion because he loves match play and he loves Team USA golf. Why not have the best player arguably of all time and certainly of my generation, who is an American, help us garner a win. That’s the best example I can give you. He wants to win. Whatever his role is – whether he’s playing, vice captain, whatever his role may be – he loves to work and he wants to win.
Are you going to watch some golf on the CW now that you know that’s the network showing LIV and there’s an event this weekend (in Spain)?
ZJ: I didn’t know that. My focus is on winning a tournament at the Rocket Mortgage this weekend.
Q: Is there a scenario where Phil Mickelson will be involved in the Ryder Cup team?
ZJ: Phil is a friend and a great friend. It’s difficult to have leadership that is not on the PGA Tour on a consistent basis given that the highest percentage of our team – I’m assuming the highest percentage of our team will be PGA Tour players – so I think having the assets like that, guys that even though the four that I have are older – Steve still comes out here, Davis comes out here, Jimmy can if he wants. My point is I think it is advantageous for me to have guys from the PGA Tour.
GWK: Wouldn’t he be too big of a distraction?
ZJ: I can see that, I see where you are going with that, but this is Team USA and whatever distractions that could surface I think we should as professionals put that to the side and represent the team, each other and our country regardless of who it is.
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek