SALT LAKE CITY — Utah golf professional Zach Johnson played in the PGA Championship in St. Louis two years ago and nearly qualified for the PGA a year ago, but lost in a sudden-death playoff at the U.S. Club Pro Championship to barely miss out.

However, thanks to that tie-for-19th finish in the Club Pro last year along with his accomplishments in the Utah Section PGA over the past year, Johnson has earned another trip to the PGA, one of golf’s four majors, which will be played this week at Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco.

“I’m very fortunate,” said the 37-year-old who has worked as an assistant pro at Davis Park Golf Course for the past decade. “Twenty of us lucked out.” 

“I’m very fortunate. Twenty of us lucked out.” — Zach Johnson, on qualifying for the PGA Championship

Every year, 20 club professionals qualify for the PGA Championship and join the best golfers in the world by finishing in the top 20 at the National Club Pro Championship, which is usually held in April. Over the years, numerous Utah club pros have qualified to play in the PGA through the club pro tournament.

Because of COVID-19, this year’s National Club Pro Championship was cancelled twice — once in April and again in July. So to determine which 20 club professional would gain exemptions to this year’s PGA Championship, the PGA of America came up with a new criteria and took the current top 20 off the player of the year list.

Thanks to last year’s finish and his accomplishments in the Utah Section, Johnson ranked No. 8 on the list.

Johnson, who won the 2013 Utah Open, left Sunday, driving across the desert with his wife and caddie, not wishing to risk catching COVID-19 on a plane flight. Having played two years ago when he had rounds 76 and 69 and missed the cut by five shots, Johnson is hoping that experience helps him this year.

“Like anything, once you’ve done it, you know what to expect,” he said. “The big thing is, there won’t be fans. So as fun as it was in 2018, it’ll be more like what we club pros are used to, more like a section event. I’m sure it’s still going to have that aura and feel, but without thousands of fans screaming and yelling. It’s definitely going to feel more like the golf we’re used to.”

Johnson’s goal is to make the 36-hole cut, something only a handful of club pros are able to accomplish each year. He acknowledges his game isn’t in top shape right now, partly due to his workload lately, teaching lessons and with his assistant pro duties at Davis Park, which has been “super busy” with “golf at an all-time high.”

As was the case two years ago, Johnson will go by Zach J. Johnson to differentiate himself from Zach Johnson, the Masters and British Open champion, who is regular on the PGA Tour and once won the Utah Championship.

“I’m not going to lie, I’ve been searching the last couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s hard to get too optimistic with the state of COVID and everything. Hopefully by the time Thursday comes, I’ll have found something and be ready to play.”  

The tournament at the 7169-yard, par-70 course will be played without spectators. It begins Thursday and the field will be cut to the low 70 scores after Friday’s round.