PGA: Johnson Fires 3-under in Round One as Ferentz Watches

By John Campbell, TV9 Sports

Cedar Rapids native Zach Johnson waves to the fans after making a birdie on the 15th hole during the first round of the 2012 John Deere Classic Thursday, July 12, 2012 at the TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill. (Brian Ray/KCRG)

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By Grant Burkhardt

By Mike Hlas, Reporter

SILVIS, Ill. — Not long after Zach Johnson’s first child was born in 2007, Johnson’s father-in-law got the baby boy and his daddy a present from Florida State.

“It was a signed photo,” said the father-in-law, Davis Barclay of Madison, Fla. “It said ‘To Will — future Nole. Bobby Bowden.”

But then-Florida State Seminoles football coach Bowden got one-upped by Iowa.

“You sent him a contract,” Barclay told Hawkeyes football coach Kirk Ferentz Thursday morning as the two followed Johnson during his first-round, 3-under-par 68 at the John Deere Classic.

Ferentz actually sent Johnson’s son a mock national letter-of-intent. Johnson, an uber-Hawkeyes fan from Cedar Rapids even though he attended Drake, probably wouldn’t let either of his sons play football at Florida State over Iowa. Not that their DNA would lead them to football instead of, say, golf.

“Their mom says she won’t let them play football unless they’re kickers,” Barclay told Ferentz.

“She’s smart,” Ferentz replied.

That the coach could have such a relaxed conversation in a public place within 75 miles of Iowa City without being interrupted a half-dozen times by requests for autographs, photos and handshakes had to be a rare pleasure for him.

But even though it was Hawkeyes Day at the JDC Thursday, the many people who followed Johnson were more interested in seeing him hit shots than making small talk with another regional sports idol.

I’d say Ferentz was able to walk 18 hassle-free holes because this is the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, but plenty of Iowans and Iowa fans attend this tourney and were here Thursday. They included former Hawkeyes kicker Nate Kaeding and current Iowa assistant football coach LeVar Woods.

But it helped Ferentz to have another former Iowa football player as his navigator.

“I just told him you’ve got to keep moving and stay ahead of the crowd,” said Lon Olejniczak of Cedar Rapids, a senior vice president at Transamerica.

“Coach’s goal was to be there for Zach, not to be a distraction.”

It was a bit of a role-reversal from the fall of 2009, when Johnson and his brother, Gabe, were given sideline passes to Iowa’s 20-10 football win at Wisconsin, and were brought in the Hawkeyes’ locker room after the game.

Ferentz normally vacations on the Atlantic shore of New Jersey the week of the JDC, but this year’s tourney is a week later than usual.

“For him to come out here and watch my business is pretty special,” Johnson said.

“Very nice of him to do that. There’s a lot going on. (Football) is a 24/7/365 sport, so I’m appreciative of that, for him to make the effort and for his wife to give him time off.”

Ferentz said this was first visit to a pro golf tourney.

He hasn’t played the game since the 1980s. Is he a golf fan?

“A Zach fan,” he said.
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