Dynamic duo reflect on legacy of success

ZACH JOHNSON, the reigning Masters champion and Angel Cabrera and Pádraig Harrington, holders of the US Open and British Open Championships respectively, make for a fascinating combination in the opening two rounds of the US PGA Championship.

Johnson and Harrington have been friends since playing together in the Bell South Classic in 2004.

It was the American’s first tournament success with Harrington three behind in 4th place. They were paired together again last week in Akron when Pádraig asked Zach what was the best and worst thing about his major success.

“It was pretty cool to be answering questions from a guy who has been playing professionally for so many years,” said Johnson. “He was arguably one of the best players to have never won a major before the British Open in my opinion. So he knows what comes along with success.”

However, he refused to be too laudatory about Harrington’s Open triumph, claiming that: “too much is made of it. Bottom line is that everybody is good. Major or not, any guy can win.

There are extreme examples, like Ben Curtis, who had literally just got his PGA Tour card and went out and won the British Open. But I’d known him for years and it didn’t surprise me in the least. I knew what he was capable of.”

When it suits him, Cabrera doesn’t “do” English very well. He speaks through an interpreter who clearly understands the game very well. So when he was asked yesterday how well he knew Pádraig Harrington and what he felt about him as a person, he seemed perplexed by the question.

“I can tell you that Pádraig is a great, great player,’’ he mumbled. Pressed to elaborate, he added that “I didn’t really get to know him very well.”

That situation is certain to change very quickly. Tomorrow, Harrington, Cabrera and Johnson go out together in the first round of the US PGA Championship at Southern Hills, Tulsa, and they will reunite again for the Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda on October 16 and 17.

While Harrington is still wondering how much his triumph at Carnoustie will affect him – if at all – as a person, Johnson and Cabrera are satisfied that they won’t change in any appreciable way.

“My personal life has remained the same,” declared Cabrera. “Sports-wise, it has been very good because now I have a lot more experience and I feel more comfortable about my game. And golf is getting bigger all the time in Argentina. It has been growing very rapidly over the past two years with me winning in the US Open and (Anders) Romero and Jose Coceres also playing very well.”

Cabrera’s victory in the US Open came as a surprise but it was nothing like the shock that rang around the golfing world when Johnson captured the green jack at Augusta. He was 175 to 1 with the bookmakers and an absolute no-hoper. Since then, however, he has proved it was no fluke with one tournament success and a series of other strong performances. He is a very religious guy and uses his faith to help keep his feet firmly on the ground.

“The only thing that has changed is that the recognition might be a little more frequent when I’m out,” he says. “But I’m not changing. I’m still in jeans and t-shirts and shorts, whatever. Of course it’s always something I’ve wanted to achieve and I feel very honoured and privileged to have that jacket.

“And, wow, from a professional standpoint, it’s meant a lot … the security that comes with it … the praise that comes along with it from your peers … congratulatory remarks and message through the mail or in person. It’s overwhelmingly awesome.

‘‘I’ve got a great group assembled and they keep me grounded and in the right frame of mind. My priorities haven’t changed before and they won’t change now either.”

Pádraig Harrington admits to being a little disappointed at not being introduced as Open Champion in the first round of the Bridgestone last week and it’s a view with which Johnson can empathise.

“It was at Hilton Head the week after the Masters and I forgot about it and didn’t know it was coming until they announced it,” he related. “I got goose bumps. It was pretty neat and remains very, very cool. We all want to try to get ourselves into that little piece of history and I just feel fortunate to have that title. I know people, when they hear me announced as ‘from Cedars Rapids, Iowa, 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson’, they take it to heart. They take pride in it and I do, too, but not too much.”

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