- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 13, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND (AP) - Standing behind the 18th green, a scraggly Zach Johnson asked around for dinner recommendations.

“I hear there’s a good pizza place up the street,” he said. “Anyone know where that is?”

But Johnson actually had other things on his mind.

Like a shower, a shave _ and some sleep.

“I’m tired,” he conceded. “Very, very tired.”

On Sunday evening, Johnson was among more than two dozen golfers who hopped aboard a pair of chartered aircraft bound for the British Open following the John Deere Classic in Illinois.

After an eight-hour flight across the Atlantic, plus a 60-or-so-mile drive from Edinburgh to St. Andrews, Johnson dropped off his bags at a rented house and headed straight to the world’s most historic course.

He officially registered for the tournament and got in a little putting, even strolling out to the green of the famous 17th _ the “Road Hole.” But, with the first hints of a beard starting to pop out on his normally clean-shaven face, this wasn’t a day to worry a whole lot about how he was stroking it.

“I’m just trying to stay up as long as I can,” Johnson said Monday. “I’m going to go eat a good meal _ and then I’m going to bed.”

At least he got some sleep on the plane.

Paul Goydos, coming off a record-tying 59 at the John Deere and thrilled about getting into the Open as the final qualifier in the 156-player field, was a little too pumped up to doze off at 35,000 feet. So, the avid reader knocked out most of the second book in the late Stieg Larsson’s famous trilogy, “The Girl Who Played With Fire.” He also wolfed down a couple of meals, eating chicken for dinner and French toast for breakfast on the approach to Edinburgh.

“I basically just vegged on the plane,” said Goydos, also sporting the telltale stubble that seemed to be the mark of those coming in straight from the John Deere.

This has become a familiar ritual, made considerably more tolerable three years ago when officials at the John Deere tournament began arranging chartered flights to the British Open for anyone who agreed to play in their tournament.

For a donation of $1,250 per seat _ which goes to the John Deere’s charity fund _ golfers and their caddies can hop aboard a jet offering business-class amenities and cut hours off the time that would be required to fly commercial. This time, two planes were used _ a 60-seat Boeing MD-83 and a 48-seat Boeing 737.

Johnson, a Midwesterner who serves on the John Deere’s board of directors and has always felt a bit of a duty to play in that event despite the inopportune timing, can certainly appreciate the advantages of having a chartered flight to the Open. The first four times he did this trek, he had to make his own travel plans.

Usually, that involved stops at both Chicago’s O’Hare and London’s Heathrow airports.

“Oh, that was horrible,” he recalled. “That’s not pleasant at all, especially when you’ve got to make connections at quite honestly two of the most trafficked and worst airports there are.”

The charter eliminates much of the hassle and one of the primary worries _ whether a player’s clubs would actually show up in Britain at the same time as the player.

It’s one thing to be missing a fresh shirt, quite another to be without that favorite putter, so John Deere officials make sure the players can see their clubs getting loaded aboard the compartment underneath before they climb aboard for the cross-Atlantic flight.

“They really accommodate the players there,” Goydos said. “It’s almost to the point of being embarrassing.”

Still, touching down from a grueling flight just 72 hours before hitting the first shot isn’t exactly the best way to prepare for a major championship. In other words, don’t ever expect to see Tiger Woods on that charter.

“I sure don’t think it puts me at an advantage,” Johnson quipped. “But does it put me at a disadvantage? I don’t know. It’s all I know. This is my seventh Open, and I’ve done it every year.”

This is Goydos‘ first trip to St. Andrews _ something he put on his list of goals at the beginning of the year. He’s 46 and figured this might be his only realistic chance to play an Open at the birthplace of golf, considering it only comes here every five years.

Even in his weary state, he gazed out over the course and marveled at what this means to his career.

“There’s so much history here. This is basically where the game started,” Goydos said. “And then you look at all the top players who’ve won at St. Andrews. That’s one of the things you had to do to make your career.”

Goydos struggled much of the year. Then, he opened the John Deere by becoming only the fourth player in PGA Tour history to shoot 59. Even though he didn’t win the tournament _ the title went to Steve Stricker for the second year in a row _ a runner-up finish pushed Goydos into the British Open.

“I got hot at the right time,” he said with a grin.

Stricker also was aboard the charter, but he said the toughest part of the trip was getting from Edinburgh to St. Andrews. He hopped board a bus for what is normally about an hourlong drive, but heavy traffic stretched out the trip to 2 1/2 hours.

“That hurt the most,” he moaned.

Even so, Stricker decided to come to the course and play all 18 holes _ mainly to stay awake and expedite the adjustment to the six-hour time difference.

“I’m a little groggy,” he understated.

His game seemed to be adjusting just fine. At the final hole, Stricker knocked a wedge to 8 feet and rolled in the birdie putt.

Goydos planned to be at the course early Tuesday for a practice round, hoping that would help him cope with the change in time zones. But first, there were a few mundane matters to take care of back home.

“I’m in the process of sending an e-mail to my daughter to have her go through the mail and pull all the bills that are due this week,” he said. “I need her to e-mail me back what I owe. I can pay them online, but I need to know the amounts. I hadn’t planned on playing three weeks in a row. Two weeks, I can get away with. But not three. There’s little things I have to do.”

And a couple of things that were even more pressing.

“I’m going to go take a shower and go to bed,” Goydos said, strolling toward the exit. “Yep, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

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