Spring 2021 Magazine

Zach Johnson gets emotional upon winning distinguished PGA Tour Payne Stewart Award

Zach Johnson was surprised Wednesday when he hopped on a Zoom call to learn he is this year’s recipient of the PGA Tour’s Payne Stewart Award, which annually goes to the golfer who “best exemplifies Stewart’s steadfast values of character, charity and sportsmanship.” But an emotional Johnson was extremely grateful for the honor.

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“I never got to meet Payne, but I loved him,” Johnson said. “I loved how he played the game certainly as a competitor but then how he lived his life off the golf course — he’s the model. I remember going to the Tour Championship and the Payne Stewart Award Ceremony my rookie year and thinking, ‘This is the pinnacle of a PGA Tour player’s career.’ It’s about how you utilize the gifts you are given, and I know Payne lived that way.

“I am deeply grateful and honored. I don’t like being in the limelight a whole lot, but I hope in this regard I can at least be a small piece of his legacy.”

Johnson will be honored Sept. 2 at the Payne Stewart Award Ceremony in conjunction with the Tour Championship. Stewart was an 11-time winner on the PGA Tour and World Golf Hall of Fame member who died in a plane crash in 1999.

“Zach would say he’s just a normal guy from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but in truth, he has one of the most compelling stories on the PGA Tour in the last 25 years, a fearless underdog who has carved out an incredibly successful career through hard work and dedication to his craft,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said in a statement. “Off the course, his commitment to charity through his foundation has made an indelible impact in Cedar Rapids and throughout Iowa where he is a state-wide hero. The PGA Tour is thrilled to add his name to what is an illustrious list of the game’s ambassadors.”

The Zach Johnson Foundation strives to give back to children and families in Cedar Rapids, and one such way is the Zach Johnson Foundation Classic. It’s a fundraiser gala and auction for sponsors and participants, and also a Pro-Am charity golf tournament. In 2019, the event raised $1.1 million to support Kids on Course, a nonprofit the Johnsons started which serves more than 1,000 students in helping them stay on a path for post-secondary education. The 2020 Classic was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but a virtual gala was held in June and raised more than $180,000.

Johnson and his wife, Kim, are also supporters of Compassion International, a child sponsorship and Christian humanitarian aid organization that aims to positively impact long-term development of children around the world living in poverty. The Johnsons are currently sponsoring two children, in Haiti and Uganda, and have supported children through Compassion since 2008.

A 12-time PGA Tour winner, Johnson’s heart for charity stems from his faith in Christ. He’s captured two majors — the 2007 Masters and 2015 Open Championship — and after each victory gave thanks to his Lord and Savior.

“I feel like God gave me the ability to play (golf),” Johnson said after winning the Open Championship. “I’m just a guy from Iowa who’s been blessed with a talent, and this game provided me great opportunity.”

After winning the Masters, he said, “This being Easter, I cannot help but believe my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was walking with me. I owe this to Him.”

Johnson has said that Bible verses often enter his mind while out on the golf course. He told Sports Spectrum back in 2013 that he views golf differently than many other pros.

“Golf is really my ministry,” Johnson said. “I just spoke from the heart and let people know how I felt. I’ve always had a platform for Jesus; now I just have a bigger platform.”

And he’s using that platform to positively impact others.

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