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Zach Johnson takes team approach to winning

Zach Johnson might not be the best putter or longest driver in golf, but thanks to a close and trusted team and a workmanlike mentality, he maximizes his abilities. AP Photo/David J. Phillip

It was just after 7 p.m. Saturday in St. Andrews, Scotland, when half of The Open field was completing their second rounds after an all-day weather delay, which left the tournament's other competitors with an extended halftime.

As the daylight slowly eased toward twilight, more than a dozen of them milled about on St. Andrews' practice facility. Some lazily hit a few shots on the range while otherwise engaged in conversation; others rapped a few putts on the nearby green.

There's no tangible way of measuring how diligently a golfer is working, but even the least discerning eyes would have taken notice of Zach Johnson on the far end of the teeing ground.

With caddie Damon Green positioned exactly 80 yards away, Johnson would hit a few wedge shots directly at him, then have him move a few yards to his left or right, essentially practicing each shot under slightly differing wind variables. Maybe it wasn't the most exacting exercise; maybe it wasn't anything especially groundbreaking. But as his fellow pros appeared to go through typical routines nonspecific to the conditions, Johnson was very clearly preparing for the circumstances.

Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that almost exactly 48 hours later, Johnson was clutching the Claret Jug, his prize for outlasting a field thanks in large part to -- again, no surprise -- a bevy of proficient wedge shots down the stretch.

A self-professed "normal guy from Cedar Rapids, Iowa," Johnson is neither overpowering (he ranks 164th on the PGA Tour in driving distance at just over 280 yards per swing) nor a dominant putter (he ranks 139th in strokes gained putting, losing more than a stroke per round to the field). And yet, he now owns a dozen career victories, with major titles on the two most hallowed grounds in the game.

Consider him this generation's answer to Corey Pavin -- which is to say, the player who regularly gets the most out of his game.

There's nothing coincidental about Johnson's success, though. Last week's Saturday evening preparation at the Old Course simply should serve as a microcosm for the usual rituals he's employed to continue improving.

It has plenty to do with an approach that views the individual pursuit of competition as more of a team concept.

That isn't just some clich├ęd rhetoric. When asked to list the advisers on his personal cabinet, so to speak, Johnson named no fewer than 10 people.

There's Kim, his wife; Green, his longtime caddie; Mike Bender, his swing instructor; Morris Pickens, his sports psychologist; Randy Myers and Troy Van Biezen, his trainers; Brad Buffoni, his agent/manager; Peter Sanders, his statistician; Stephen Bunn, his spiritual mentor; and Zack Fulmer, his financial adviser.

"I know this seems like a lot -- and maybe even too much," Johnson readily admitted, "but each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play."

Before the start of each season, Johnson assembles this group for a summit that is less cushy retreat than influential business meeting.

His confidantes analyze results, exchange ideas and offer suggestions for their man to play his best golf during the impending campaign.

"Dr. Mo [Pickens] introduced the team summit to me years ago," he explained. "It has evolved since then, more people with different approaches and aspects to golf. Golf is my business, so why wouldn't I have at least one team meeting a year? It's in everyone's best interest. Goals and objectives laid out, and trust forged. That's a good team."

On Monday evening, following a three-man aggregate playoff that saw Johnson triumph on the final green, his name was engraved onto golf's most famous piece of hardware, one which includes champions dating back more than a century and a half.

The record books will forever list him as the individual winner of this event, but ask Johnson and you'll soon understand that he doesn't view it in those terms. As anyone in his personal cabinet knows, this was a team victory.