In Zach Johnson, the U.S. might have the leader (and fighter) made for an embattled Ryder Cup

us ryder cup captain zach johnson

Zach Johnson, the 12-time PGA Tour winner, believes he has the DNA to deliver the first U.S. Ryder Cup win on European soil in decades.

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Zach Johnson doesn’t think we’ll be friends. He didn’t take the U.S. Ryder Cup captaincy at the height of the most divisive time in golf under the illusion that he’d catch an easy ride — from reporters, golf fans or anyone else. And to date, the captaincy has not been that. There were months of LIV/PGA Tour feuding, legal dramas threatening to impact tournament eligibility. And did we mention that bit about the PGA/PIF merger?

Why would Johnson (or, for that matter, his Team Europe counterpart, captain Luke Donald) choose to enter this scrum? Because the 47-year-old, 12-time PGA Tour winner believes he has the DNA to deliver the first U.S. Ryder Cup win on European soil since the Clinton administration — DNA that has no shortage of testiness. But Johnson’s fighting spirit may be precisely what Team U.S.A. needs. A saying will be stitched into their uniforms: Dodici forti. It’s Italian for the old American Ryder Cup axiom “Twelve strong.” In Johnson, who spent plenty of the past year competing alongside most of the dozen players who’ll ultimately make up his team, it’s certain the Americans will have a 13th man in the foxhole.

GOLF: Okay, Zach, let’s start off with an easy one. In your mind, what makes a good leader?

Zach Johnson: I think a leader is someone who represents a bigger mission than just themselves. It’s
a cliché, but I’ve always believed in the saying, “Slow to speak, quick to listen.” Leaders carry themselves with a selflessness, but they don’t shy away from being in the fray, because it’s what they signed up for.

You mention throwing yourself into the fray, and you’ve certainly done that. Why do you think that’s an important quality?

Look, it’s not something I was necessarily relishing, but, yeah, I’m okay with it. People know where I stand and where my loyalties are, but, hey, I’ve got great friends who have left for LIV, and they’re still great friends. My approach is that I’m wearing a different hat. This is not the PGA Tour Ryder Cup. This is Team U.S.A.

As you talk about the selection process, do you see your job as assembling the 12 best American golfers or the best American Ryder Cup team?

I’ll answer this way: How do you define the 12 best American golfers? How do you measure that? It fluctuates by the day and maybe even by the hour. Six guys are earning their spot on the team [on points], and from there I’ve got to form the best 12 American players who’ll make the best team for Rome that week. All the elements — locker room fit, experience or lack thereof, the list goes on — are included in that.

I know you’ve been asked about LIV ad nauseam…

Go ahead.

At some point, were you concerned about bringing LIV players onto the American roster?

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I was concerned about bringing anybody into the room. It didn’t matter what tour you’re on. The bottom line is that the only drama I want is what their golf clubs do inside the ropes

You had a scouting trip to Rome in early September. Who is that time most crucial for — you or your players?

That time is imperative for everyone. That’s a strong word, but it is crucial. We are a team, and we need to start getting in that mind frame of being together. It’s not put your ego aside. No, bring your ego to the table, bring your personal competence and compete.

Last question: What’s something you’ve learned about the state of American golf in 2023?

It’s really deep, and somehow it’s getting deeper. These kids are ready to go. My guess is the inspiration came from Tiger Woods, but, either way, it’s pretty awesome to watch.

James Colgan Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at