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The Magic Touch
April 08, 2008
By adhering to the basics Zach Johnson excelled on Augusta's treacherous greens
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April 08, 2008

The Magic Touch

By adhering to the basics Zach Johnson excelled on Augusta's treacherous greens

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.

"We focused 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 says.

Johnson is 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 thing."

On Saturday, 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.

For short-game tips from the master, Dave Pelz, go to