Shortly after Zach Johnson tapped in on No. 18 at Conway Farms, he bent over, taking a deep breath.
It was a moment of reflection after he fired a final-round, 6-under-par 65 to win the BMW Championship by two shots.
“I just had to gather myself,” he said. “I feel blessed. The peace I had out there …”
The Iowa native felt the love all day from the 10,000-plus fans who endured muddy conditions to witness the Monday finish in Lake Forest.
“I’m not from Chicago,” Johnson said, “but I feel local. And the fans that followed me today, I heard it. I heard ‘Go Iowa, go Drake, go Regis,’ my high school. I don’t want to understate that or take it for granted.”
Johnson finished at 16 under, beating Nick Watney by a pair. Third-round leader Jim Furyk fell to third with a final-round 71 but showed great sportsmanship after coming off the 18th green.
While Johnson was on the interview podium, Furyk got his attention and mouthed, “Nice playing.”
Johnson’s playing partner, Brandt Snedeker, showed his admiration on the 17th green. After Johnson sank a downhill, double-breaking, 13-foot birdie putt, Snedeker gave him a fist bump as if they were teammates in a Ryder Cup match.
“I was pulling hard for him,” Snedeker said. “You see a guy play that well, you want him to (win).”
Said Johnson: “Sneds was still trying to compete and fight. But that was a nice gesture. That’s what friends do.”
After taking a two-shot lead on 17, Johnson walked to the 18th tee box to calls of “Stay hot” and “Go Hawkeyes.”
He struck his drive so cleanly, producing a draw onto the 18th fairway, he didn’t even bother to watch it land. Same for his 4-iron layup shot. He handed the club to caddie Damon Green before it landed.
“He’s not afraid to win,” Green said. “A lot of guys might back up in that (tight) situation. He wants to keep going, pedal to the metal. When you’re down, he wants to stomp on you.”
Johnson’s birdie putt from 18 feet settled inches from the cup, and Johnson approached it as if eager to close out his 10th PGA Tour victory. But Green and Snedeker helped persuade him to mark it and wait.
“To be able to tap out, knowing you have won the golf tournament,” Snedeker said, “that’s a special moment I wanted him to have.”
Johnson, who was angered Saturday after a spectator near the 18th green hollered, “Zach, you suck!” saluted the crowd Monday by applauding as he made a 360-degree turn.
“This is the Midwest, man. This is Chicago,” he said. “I’ve got brothers here, cousins, uncles. This is the big city east of where I’m from.”
He paused and said, “It just dawned on me that I won.”
Johnson first played at Conway Farms in 1997 at the NCAA Championship. The course dazzled him, but it was not even a PGA Tour stop, let alone a major venue. He remembered thinking: “This place is amazing. What’s Augusta like?”
He shot an 81 but followed with a 69.
“I kind of got used to it,” he said.
He came back a few weeks ago to play a practice round with family members. Turns out he planned it all just right.
“A great week,” he said, summing it up. “And a phenomenal day.”