FROM THE momenthe parked his mammoth brown-and-white RV in a pine-shaded lot on WashingtonRoad, Zach Johnson started to win the 2007 Masters.
He felt fit, aresult of regular workouts with his strength coach, Chris Noss. He felt sereneyet competitive, thanks to long discussions with his mental coach, MorrisPickens. And in practice sessions with swing coach and Orlando neighbor MikeBender, Johnson's stroke fell into a groove like a key in a lock.
"We focusedon tempo all week," says Bender. "I had him take full swings with adriver 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 comesinto a green jacket except through impeccable putting, and Johnson has a coachfor that too. He's Pat O'Brien, 37, once the Tour rep for SeeMore putters, nowthe director of instruction at Lakewood Country Club in Dallas. O'Brien, whohas been working with Johnson since 2001, advocates holding the club in thefingers for maximum feel—"the way a surgeon holds a scalpel"—andkeeping 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'Briensays.
Johnson ispractically perfect, however, in two of the other fundamentals his instructoremphasizes. "Zach and Tiger Woods are so good under pressure because theirposture is so good—athletic but relaxed," O'Brien says. "I'm surprisedmore people don't pay attention to this." And since O'Brien believes stressbuilds with each tick of the clock, he wants his students to stand over theball for no more than a second. Johnson does not dally.
All of it wasworking for Johnson last April. "I got to Augusta on Monday and could seethat Zach was locked in," O'Brien says. "All I did was give him someconfirmation. I'd say, 'Your fundamentals are great,' that kind ofthing."
On Saturday,O'Brien flew home to Dallas for a clinic, but was back in Augusta for a fewfinal encouraging words before Johnson teed off in the third-to-last group onEaster 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 Johnsonnot only made every crucial putt but also rolled his ball into the center ofthe cup at perfect speed. He—and his instructors—had a masterly week.
For short-gametips from the master, Dave Pelz, go to GOLF.com/Pelz.
Since a shaft is relatively easy to match up with thechalk line on the ground, O'Brien has his students align themselves by holdingup a club to the eyes (1), shoulders (2) and knees (3). "We're trying toget everything parallel to that red line," O'Brien says. "Zach doesthis every week, getting oriented to what square is." With body partsaligned and shaft, arms and head centered (4), says O'Brien, "you're inposition to roll the ball down the chalk line—with confidence."
Photograph by DAVID WALBERG
PAT ANSWER Guiding Johnson, O'Brien believes that correct posture is an often overlooked key to precise putting.
Photograph by DAVID WALBERG
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