AUGUSTA, Ga. — When it comes to marketability and corporate appeal, Zach Johnson is succeeding at about the same rate he has done on golf courses over the last eight months.
Which is to say, extremely well.
In the last two months alone, Johnson signed endorsement contracts with John Deere and Country Inns and Suites By Carlson. Added to Transamerica/AEGON, Titleist/FootJoy, McGladrey, Oakley, BMW and NetJets, Johnson has quite a set of corporate clubs in his bag.
“Zach continues to be one of the most marketable players in the world, combining elite performance and consistency with a wonderful personality and great character,” said Johnson’s longtime agent, Brad Buffoni.
“His high level of performance year in and year out is virtually unmatched. That along with his strong values, humility and the way he conducts himself makes him very coveted among companies using sports to market. We are very selective to make sure our partners share these same values, and all of them certainly do.”
Many insist Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the only players who move the Nielsen needle when it comes to televised golf, and that probably is so in the U.S. This week’s Masters may be the only tournament that won’t have significantly lower ratings this year with the loss of Woods from its field because of back surgery, but it’s still likely to lose some audience share.
But those who tune in to watch golf even without Woods have demographics that appeal to a lot of companies, be it makers of luxury cars or designer sunglasses. Johnson clearly has a presence those corporations see as having great value.
“John Deere is one that just fits,” Johnson said Tuesday after his Masters practice round at Augusta National. “Their logo was put on my bag in Tucson (in February) and I had a bunch of buddies who were like ‘Yeah, it’s about time.’
Country Inns and Suites is part of Carlson Companies, a hotel, restaurant and travel corporation headquartered in Minnetonka, Minn.
“It’s another Midwest company, much like everybody I’ve been with,” Johnson said. “They’re actively trying to promote their brand and they wanted a Midwest guy.
“The beauty of these last two things we’ve established has been there’s some foundation perks, if you will.”
Meaning, John Deere and Carlson will be donors to the Zach Johnson Foundation, the non-profit organization the Cedar Rapids native dedicated to help children in need and their families in his hometown.
It certainly hasn’t hurt that Johnson has had an enormous amount of TV time since last July, winning three high-profile tournaments and finishing in the Top Ten in nine other events.
At 38, he has never played better. The disappointment Johnson and his legion of fans at last July’s John Deere Classic felt when he lost a sudden-death playoff faded in little more than the time it took him to fly from the Quad Cities to the next tourney, the British Open.
He tied for sixth, his best result in his 10 Opens. He then tied for fourth at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and tied for eighth at the PGA Championship. In September, he won the BMW Championship during the FedExCup playoffs.
In December, Johnson won the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, hosted by Woods for his foundation. Johnson beat Woods in a playoff for that title. The next month, he kicked off 2014 by capturing the Hyundai Tournament of Champions title in Maui.
Before he returned home to St. Simons Island, Ga., Johnson tied for eighth in the Sony Open in Hawaii and tied for third in the Humana Challenge in California. In his most recent Tour event, he tied for sixth at the Texas Open. He is 10th in the latest World Golf Rankings.
“It goes all the way back to missing the cut in Tampa (in March 2013),” said Mike Bender, Johnson’s swing coach. “He came over to my academy and we put him side by side with some of his previous years up on the video. We saw that his set-up had gotten off. So we got that dialed back in, and then he progressively started playing better after that.
“Over the last six or eight months or whatever, his rhythm has really stayed consistent. I think part of that is he’s in a good place in life.”
Sports Illustrated’s Gary Van Sickle wrote this about his 2014 Masters pick to win:
“The winner is a guy who has played his best golf the last few years and gets no respect because he’s not a basher — Zach Johnson. He’s going to peck Augusta National to death, again.”
If Johnson makes a prophet of Van Sickle and scratches a seven-year itch with a reprise of his 2007 victory here, the list of companies who will woo him will be as long as a par-5 into the wind.