Despite being a 47-year-old PGA Tour veteran, Zach Johnson looked like one of the best players in the world at The American Express Thursday.
The former Ryder Cup captain signed for a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club, holding a share of the lead with Alex Noren of Sweden after day one.
“I got off to a good start and gained some momentum. Hit a lot of shots in the middle of the club face,” Johnson said of his first round.
“When I had loft in my hand I was able to be aggressive, which is always key. Obviously, I putted well… You got to find your line and hit it down your line here. This is a place where if you have any rhythm, any momentum, any semblance of decent form, you can get it going. [PGA West] is one of my favorite stops. It’s just one day, [but] a lot of golf left.”
Indeed, Johnson got off to a roaring start, shooting a 7-under 29 on the front side. He birdied every hole except the second and third.
He made three more birdies on the back and did not drop a single shot.
“My process has been great with my caddie. I am trying to hit the middle of the fairways as much as possible, and that’s worked out well, so [I have to] stay in the moment,” he added.
Johnson has two rounds left before Saturday’s 54-hole cut: one on the Pete Dye Stadium Course and another on the Nicklaus Tournament Course.
Players play three courses—these two and La Quinta—before Sunday’s final round, which takes place on the Stadium Course at PGA West.
“[PGA West] is legitimately one of the purest places we play on the PGA Tour year-in, year-out,” Johnson added. “The grass is—it almost looks fake.”
Funny enough, Johnson admires this venue so much that he wants to become a member.
“I love this place, the membership here, the club’s terrific. I told the assistant pro today that if I broke 76, I should get a free membership,” Johnson quipped.
“From a condition standpoint, it’s legitimately one of the best facilities I’ve ever set foot on, and I know my peers; I’m confident they would say the same. It’s not big or intimidating from a distance standpoint, but you have to shape your ball.”
Johnson did more than enough to put up his end of the bargain, as he holds the 18-hole lead. But he has not won since the 2015 Open Championship at St. Andrews, where he defeated Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in a thrilling playoff.
Maybe if Johnson ends his nine-year victory drought, the club will welcome him with open arms as a member.
That would make for a good story, right? Much better than the story of the American team at Marco Simone, at least.