Humbled Zach Johnson serves as Iowa's honorary captain

Rick Brown
Zach Johnson hands Sean Peck of Tipton the Claret Jug prior to the Hawkeyes' game against Maryland at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Zach Johnson was driving from a FedEx Cup playoff event in Plainfield, N.J., to the next one in Boston, when he got a phone call in early September.

It was Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz.

“We were on the phone for 45 minutes,” Johnson said. “We talked about the team, golf, our families.”

And then Ferentz asked the reigning British Open champion and 12-time PGA Tour winner if he’d like to serve as honorary captain.

“Holy cow,” Johnson told him. “I’d be happy to.”

So there was Johnson, hoisting the iconic Claret Jug that goes to the winner of the British Open, to a rousing ovation before the kickoff of Saturday’s Iowa-Maryland game at Kinnick Stadium. Johnson tipped his America Needs Farmers hat and patted his hand over his heart, clearly moved by the cheers.

Johnson also spoke to the team Friday, where he shared his undying affection for the Hawkeyes. And he took part in the opening coin flip with captains of both teams before Saturday’s kickoff.

“Iowa football is the way I stay in touch with home,” said Johnson, a Drake graduate who was raised in Cedar Rapids, now lives in Georgia and has been going to Hawkeye games since he was a youngster. He also has season tickets at Kinnick Stadium.

Johnson’s career clashes with watching his favorite team from time to time. Like when he represented the United States in the Presidents Cup in South Korea earlier this month.

Johnson was at JFK Airport, waiting for the flight to South Korea, when Iowa opened the Big Ten season at Wisconsin Oct. 3. Joined by Jim Furyk, Davis Love III, Bubba Watson and their wives, they watched the first half from an airport pub.

Johnson figured he’d be able to watch the second half on the plane. But there was no service.

“So I didn’t know the score until I landed 14 hours later,” Johnson said of the 10-6 victory.

Game thread: No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Maryland Terrapins