FROM THE moment
he parked his mammoth brown-and-white RV in a pine-shaded lot on Washington
Road, Zach Johnson started to win the 2007 Masters.
He felt fit, a
result of regular workouts with his strength coach, Chris Noss. He felt serene
yet competitive, thanks to long discussions with his mental coach, Morris
Pickens. And in practice sessions with swing coach and Orlando neighbor Mike
Bender, Johnson's stroke fell into a groove like a key in a lock.
on tempo all week," says Bender. "I had him take full swings with a
driver but only fly it 220 yards. I could hear people in the gallery saying,
'That poor guy can't even get it to the net.'"
But no one comes
into a green jacket except through impeccable putting, and Johnson has a coach
for that too. He's Pat O'Brien, 37, once the Tour rep for SeeMore putters, now
the director of instruction at Lakewood Country Club in Dallas. O'Brien, who
has been working with Johnson since 2001, advocates holding the club in the
fingers for maximum feel—"the way a surgeon holds a scalpel"—and
keeping the hands, nose and shaft in a line in the dead center of the stance.
Johnson violates these tenets in a big way, with his backward-cocked fist grip.
"I was smart enough not to try to change him on that," O'Brien
practically perfect, however, in two of the other fundamentals his instructor
emphasizes. "Zach and Tiger Woods are so good under pressure because their
posture is so good—athletic but relaxed," O'Brien says. "I'm surprised
more people don't pay attention to this." And since O'Brien believes stress
builds with each tick of the clock, he wants his students to stand over the
ball for no more than a second. Johnson does not dally.
All of it was
working for Johnson last April. "I got to Augusta on Monday and could see
that Zach was locked in," O'Brien says. "All I did was give him some
confirmation. I'd say, 'Your fundamentals are great,' that kind of
O'Brien flew home to Dallas for a clinic, but was back in Augusta for a few
final encouraging words before Johnson teed off in the third-to-last group on
Easter Sunday. Pickens returned, too, from his home at Sea Island, Ga.
"This does not have to be a learning experience," Pickens told Johnson.
"You are good enough to win."
And then Johnson
not only made every crucial putt but also rolled his ball into the center of
the cup at perfect speed. He—and his instructors—had a masterly week.
tips from the master, Dave Pelz, go to GOLF.com/Pelz.