Zach Johnson returned the Open Championship's Claret Jug to the R&A on Monday with bittersweet feelings but the American promised he was “100 per cent positive” about his title defence at Royal Troon this week, writes Simon Lewis.
Johnson, 40, returned one of sport's oldest and most iconic trophies to R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers after arriving back in Scotland a year after becoming Open champion with a play-off victory at St Andrews in 2015.
While parting company with the Claret Jug had been tinged with emotion the double major champion said he was looking forward to starting from scratch all over again in his bid to recapture it at the first attempt at a course where he made his Open debut in 2004.
“My thoughts are 100 per cent positive in the sense that, I guess, technically I'm still Champion Golfer of the Year,” Johnson said. “Since I played in this golf tournament, which was actually here was my first, my love for it was immense and immediate, and it's my favourite to play. I mean, I just I appreciate it, I love it. I think I've embraced it. You have to, the conditions are what they are.
“So, you know, as my sports psychologist and I, Dr Mo (Pickens), have been talking about, it's not like I've got a one- or two-shot lead when I tee it up on Thursday. I've got to give the Claret Jug back, which I did. It was not pleasant, but there's still an opportunity to go out there and play. That's what it is.
“Last year was last year, and now we're moving on and shifting on mentally and certainly excited for the week.”
Returning the Claret Jug first won by Willie Park Sr in 1860 just 3.5 miles away at Prestwick was, Johnson, said “something I'll never forget”.
“I kind of parted ways emotionally with it at home, so once I got to the formalities of it, it really wasn't that difficult. But it was bittersweet. Bittersweet. More sweet, but the fact that you've got to give it back, you know it's coming. I guess a portion of that sweetness is you still have an opportunity to get it back yourself.”
And it was not returned before the Champion Golfer of the Year used the silver jug one last time.
“I'm staying in a house with some buddies and we had wine out of it,” Johnson said. “It is a Claret decanter, so it served its purpose in that regard, too.”