The Open 2015: ‘I’m just a blessed boy from Iowa,’ says Zach Johnson

St. Andrews, Scotland CNN  — 

It was news to Zach Johnson that he’d won the Open Championship.

So focused was the 39-year-old that when Louis Oosthuizen’s crucial birdie putt missed on the final hole, it was his caddy Damon Green who broke the news to him.

A deeply religious man, Johnson was busy reciting scripture to keep his concentration, and when he’d finished he’d added the Claret Jug to his 2007 Masters triumph.

And while the new world No. 12 readily admits he’s no “poster boy,” he is a walking advert for hard work and dedication.

Read: Zach Johnson victorious after dramatic playoff

That’s not to say Johnson’s victory at St. Andrews after a three-man playoff on an epic Monday at the home of golf wasn’t rousing.

He edged out South Africa’s Oosthuizen – victor last time the Open was held at the Old Course five years ago – and Australian Marc Leishman, in a gripping conclusion to the extended tournament.

“That’s one phrase I’ve never heard coined for me,” Johnson told reporters when asked about the “poster boy” tag.

As for going under the radar heading into the final day? “I guess that radar is going bonkers right now,” he quipped.

“I don’t mind being in that position. I did say that, and when my game is good, certainly I surface on the radar.

“I don’t know if it’s ever really beeping on me. But you know, I said it back in 2007; I mean, I feel like God gave me the ability to play a game. I try to take it very seriously. I realize it’s just a game.

“I’m just a guy from Iowa that has been blessed with a talent, and this game provides great opportunity. I think if you mentally look at it that way, it kind of takes the pressure off.”

Johnson remained remarkably cool under pressure, holing a vital putt on the 18th green to get to 15-under and secure a spot in the playoff.

And after consulting with a higher power, Johnson was able to celebrate becoming only the sixth golfer to win a major at both St. Andrews and Augusta – following in the footsteps of Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods and Seve Ballesteros.

And if Johnson’s star doesn’t shine quite as bright as those of younger men like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, he certainly felt the warmth of the galleries at the “Home of Golf.”

“I’m not the most charismatic, maybe emotional, fun-packed individual on the golf course; I get that,” he explained.

“I’m so into what I’m trying to do, and my game plan is as such, and I just try to go at it. I mean, I’m going to get the crowd going occasionally. I appreciate them.

“We play a great sport, a fun sport, one that provides a lot of drama, and there’s an entertainment value there, as to what you’re getting at, I think.

“Fortunately we’ve got a lot of great personalities in this game and a lot of tremendous talent.

“I think our game and the players that are playing it are in a great state.”

Johnson’s achievement meant an end to Spieth’s grand slam dream.

The 21-year-old was gunning to be the first man to win the first three majors of the season since Ben Hogan in 1953, and had a putt on the last to make the playoff.

That slid past and with it, his hopes of becoming the first man to win all four in a season evaporated – when Bobby Jones did so in 1930, years before he founded the Masters, his grand slam included two amateur championships.

Despite his obvious disappointment, Spieth stuck around at St. Andrews to welcome Johnson back into the clubhouse.

“He said congratulations and that he was proud,” Johnson reported.

“He is a peer of mine. He’s an acquaintance of mine. He is a really good friend of mine.

“I can’t describe the magnitude as to what he was going through because I’ve never been in that position, certainly. We haven’t really seen that with the exception of Tiger, right?

“I mean, truthfully he could be sitting here. But to have a champion like Jordan take the time on 18 to give me best wishes, and Mike, his caddy, speaks volumes as to what he is.

“He’s a phenomenal talent, and I’m telling you right now – a lot of you guys know him, he’s a better person than he is golfer.”

As a two-time major champion, Johnson’s golfing resume now demands he be taken seriously.

A serial winner on the PGA Tour with $37.5 million in tournament earnings and a veteran of four Ryder Cup teams, his name is frequently seen towards the upper echelons of a major leaderboard.

His previous best Open finish was tied sixth back in 2013 at Muirfield, but his round of 66 on Monday was the lowest among the top 11 players, and matched only by Leishman.

He seized his chance when it arrived, claiming the $1.8 million first prize, and now his name will forever be associated with the most famous golf course, and championship, on the planet.

“It’s a feat to be invited and an honor to be invited to these tournaments,” Johnson said.

“To win at Augusta and to win The Open Championship at St. Andrews, it’s hard to put it into words, as a golfer, as an athlete, as a guy – I’m not rich in history, I can tell you that.

“I’m not a great historian. I know the little things that probably most know, but I do know that this is the birthplace of a great game and a place that has fantastic fans.

“The venue is just – for those that love the game, this needs to be on their bucket list and I love playing it. It’s probably my most fun golf tournament inside the ropes.

“Ryder Cup is the Ryder Cup, Augusta is Augusta, I get that. But I just respect and appreciate what this tournament is all about and I could go on and on about that.

“It’s the best.”

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