Zach Johnson: Historical Comparisons


#1

Zach “FEMA” Johnson has established an impressive career since his first career PGA Tour win in 2004, including two majors and five Ryder Cup appearances. A closer reading of his resume, however, reveals a player that thrives in birdie-fests (as his multiple wins in Hawaii and general success at the Fifth Major seem to confirm) but has otherwise gotten lucky on the major stage.

In 2007, Johnson survived some of the worst playing conditions Augusta had ever seen, dinking and dunking his way through the par-5s to finish at +1. With the elements such a factor, no golfer broke par* for the week. Similarly, in 2015, the weather was such a factor as to force the R&A to hold the final round on Monday, with localized flooding and winds strong enough to cause Brooks Koepka’s ball to start “fucking oscillating” at one juncture.

Accordingly, I have taken a deep dive into the historical record, sports and otherwise, to produce a list of similarly situated individuals** and teams that, for whatever reason, found success more through serendipity than anything else:

1994 & 1995 Houston Rockets
Led by Hakeem Olajuwon, the Houston Rockets were only able to break through and win their two NBA Championships in 1994, when Michael Jordan retired from the sport to pursue gambling baseball, and in 1995, where Jordan only returned for the final XX games of the season. Jordan’s Bulls had won the preceding three championship and eventually won the following three championships, leading many to believe that the Rockets somehow got “lucky” to peak during Jordan’s absence.

Cal Naughton, Jr., Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Cal Naughton, Jr., former Playgirl model under the name “Mike Honcho,” never won a race until the 2006 Talladega 500, in which his former teammate Ricky Bobby and Bobby’s nemesis, Jean Girard, crashed their respective cars while vying for the finish. Shockingly, the competitors exited their vehicles and made a mad dash for the finish line, obviously forfeiting the race and allowing Naughton to snatch a victory from third position.

2007 LSU Tigers Football Team
The Tigers lost twice in 2007 (in triple overtime!) as the #1 team, only to stumble into the BCS Championship Game when #1 Missouri and #2 West Virginia both lost in the final week of the regular season. That year, the #2 team in AP Poll lost seven times in the final nine weeks season.

Aegon V Targaryen, A Song of Ice and Fire
If we look at unlikely political successes, the most obvious example is Aegon “The Unlikely” Targaryen from the A Song of Ice and Fire book series, the inspiration for HBO’s Game of Thrones. The fourth son of a fourth son, Aegon V’s chances at becoming king were as fleeting as Zach Johnson’s hairline, but he was chosen by a Great Council in 233 AC after a number of unexpected deaths and after his older brother, Aemon, refused the throne.

Paul Lawrie, 1999 Open Championship
Fittingly, this snuff film of a tournament is the best golf example readily available. Van de Velde up five at the conclusion of the 3rd round. Lawrie’s Sunday 67. The 18th, the Barry Burn, the rolled up trousers, agony.

*Par literally didn’t matter this week.

**As much as I wanted to include my greatest enemy, Nick Faldo, on this list for being the beneficiary of Greg Norman’s 1996 Sunday collapse, the guy won six majors. You don’t win six majors through luck alone, and Sir Mumbles has an incredible resume on the course.


#2

Zach Johnson is Eli Manning

2004 - The year Zach Johnson earns his PGA Tour Card, and the year Eli Manning gets drafted and starts his first NFL Game.
2007 - The year Zach Johnson upsets Tiger Woods and wins the Masters out of nowhere, and the season that Eli Manning upset the undefeated Patriots and Tom Brady.
2 - The number of Majors for Zach Johnson and the number of Super Bowls for Eli Manning
0 - Other than his Major victories, the number of top 5s in a Major for Zach Johnson, and other than his Super Bowl winning years, the number of playoff wins for Eli Manning.

Both players got hot and peaked at the right time. Both have HOF careers despite simply being average for most of their careers. Both get a boost due to longevity. Both players somewhat validated their first big time win with a second unexpected win years later. Neither were ever argued as being one of the best at any given moment in their careers. Both seem to be pretty awkward.


#3

I actually watched the replay of Van de Velde playing 18 and the subsequent playoff on the Golf Channel last night. It really is amazing Van de Velde even made the playoff. He almost put his drive in the burn, almost puts his second shot in the burn, and then finally succeeds in dunking it on his third shot.

Then, to start the playoff, Van de Velde duck hooks his drive into the gorse and looks dead, only to have Lawrie and Justin Rose, who tried to be sensible and use a 3wood, duck hook their tee shots into the same area. I remembered the carnage on the 18th, but I had completely forgot how terrible these guys played the first two holes of the playoff. Snuff film is a very apt description.


#4

this is how you “take.”


#5

I can get behind the Zach Johnson/Eli Manning comparison, but overall I think Johnson gets a bad rap. Admittedly I have a soft spot for him as a fellow Iowan, who supports the Hawkeye state on a regular basis, but I don’t look at his major wins as “flukes” or not impressive. Both of those tournaments were tough wins, and required some high level grinding.

Also, he’s 8-6-2 in the Ryder Cup in an era when a lot of his teammates can’t boast that they had winning records.


#6

I’m still pissed at him for getting all butthurt on Saturday at Shinny and harshing my third-round carnage vibe.


#7

1980s Pistons—not the Showtime Lakers, the Bird Celtics or the Jordan Bulls— they were gritty, tough 2 time champs

Florida Marlins —2 time World Series champs. Underdog both times. Came through in the big moment but otherwise not very memorable year in and year out.

1994-1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers. NU dominated in a way ZJ never has, but their option style offense was as fun to watch as ZJ laying up on every par 5.


#8

Hakeem’s Rockets had a winning record against Jordan’s Bulls.