SALT LAKE CITY — It didn’t take long for Utah’s Zach Johnson to be mistaken for PGA Tour star Zach Johnson at this week’s PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St Louis.
“I’ve already been confused for the real Zach Johnson about 12 times today,” Johnson said Monday.
The “real” Zach Johnson is the 42-year-old from Iowa who has won 12 PGA Tour events, including the Masters and the Open Championship at St. Andrews three years ago.
Utah’s Johnson is a 35-year-old Davis Park assistant pro who grew up in Salt Lake and attended Cottonwood High before playing for Southern Utah. He is playing in his first-ever PGA Tour event after being one of 20 golfers to qualify for the PGA at the PGA Professional Tournament for club professionals in June.
Before leaving for Missouri last week, Johnson said he doesn’t mind sharing the same name with the prominent golfer, who besides winning more than $44 million on the PGA Tour, won a Nike (Web.com) Tour event in Utah in 2003.
“I welcome it — happens all the time,” Johnson said. “Trust me, I disappoint a lot of people.”
To keep confusion to a minimum, the PGA is using his middle initial and listing him as Zach J. Johnson. He tees off at 1:05 p.m. MT on the back nine with Michael Kim and Seungsu Han. Zach H. Johnson will tee off at 12:48 p.m. off the front nine.
Utah’s Johnson grew up playing at Mick Riley Golf Course, where he’d spend all day in the summer as a youngster. He played basketball and baseball until turning to golf full time in high school, but he says he was miles behind junior golfers his age such as Daniel Summerhays and Clay Ogden.
He took the only golf scholarship he was offered by coach Richard Church at Southern Utah, although Johnson said he “had no business getting a golf scholarship.” He said he’ll always be grateful to Church for taking a chance on him.
Johnson turned professional soon after college and won a few events, but his big breakthrough came in 2013 when he won the Utah Open at Oakridge Country Club. His other big professional victory came in the TaylorMade Championship at Pebble Beach earlier this year.
In June he was one of 20 professionals out of 312 who started the tournament at the Bayonet Golf Course in Seaside, California, to earn a spot in the PGA by finishing in a tie for 12th place.
“It’s definitely been a goal of mine since becoming a PGA professional,” he said. “I’m very excited.”
He’s not expecting to contend for the title in his first PGA Tour event, but said making the cut would be “a lofty goal.” He said he received some good advice from other Utah club pros who have qualified for the PGA in recent years, including Tommy Sharp, Joe Summerhays and Chris Moody.
“They are all good friends of mine. They said to soak it all in and have fun — to go to have a good time and enjoy yourself.”
Two other golfers with Utah ties who are playing this week are Salt Lake native Tony Finau and Glenwild teaching pro Craig Hocknull, who also qualified for the PGA through the club pro tournament, where he also tied for 12th.
Finau, who ranks No. 10 in the FedEx Cup standings, will be going for another top 10 finish as he heads into the PGA as the only golfer in the world to have finished in the top 10 in all three majors. This will be his fourth PGA after tying for 10th in 2015, missing the cut in 2016 finishing in a tie for 44th last year.
Finau tees off at 6:17 a.m. MT off No. 10 tee with Jim Furyk and Xander Schauffele. It will be a Ryder Cup tryout of sorts, as Furyk is the captain of the team and Schauffele is just ahead of Finau in the Ryder Cup standings. Finau and Schauffele are considered as strong candidates for Furyk's four “captain’s picks” for the team.
Hocknull has been the director of golf instruction at the Glenwild Club near Park City since the spring of 2015. The 43-year-old is from Brisbane, Australia and played briefly on the Web.com Tour in 2012 and 2013. He tees off on No. 1 at 6:01 MT with Austin Cook and Alexander Bjork.