Someone asked Jim Benedix and his friend if they had room for another playing partner as they prepared to tee up a round of golf at the Cocoa Beach Country Club in Cocoa Beach, Fla. on March 4. The pair were happy to accommodate a third and waited for their mystery guest to meet them on the first tee.

Little did the Litchfield resident know at the time that he was about to play 27 holes with a future Masters champion.

“We went out to the white tees, the front tees, and he came out a little ways behind us and went to the gold tees, the championship tee,” Benedix said. “So we circled back and got in behind him so he could tee off ahead of us. I noticed right away that he had this real professional bag with his name on it – Titleist bag, Titleist clubs, Titleist hat.”

The name on the bag read “Zach Johnson.” Benedix, an avid golf fan, recognized the name, but he wasn’t sure what it would be like shooting a round with the nine-year pro.

“When he chipped out of the sand on the first hole, I knew right away that he was good. He put it about six inches from the pin,” said the 73-year-old businessman and retired CPA.

Benedix has been wintering in Cocoa Beach for the past 18 years and runs into celebrities quite often at his country club, which counts Tim Wakefield, Paul Azinger and Cris Collinsworth among its members. Back in the 1960s, he also used to coordinate fishing trips in Maine for the New England Patriots. He says he’s good friends with the parents of A.J. Pierzynski and frequently golfs with the Chicago White Sox catcher.

Having rubbed elbows with athletes so often, Benedix said he has as a rule not to ask them for autographs or pictures or to talk shop with them unless they offer first.

“One thing we don’t do with A.J. is discuss baseball, and it’s the same way (with Johnson),” he said. “He was really friendly, but we talked about everything but golf. I think that’s why he chose Cocoa Beach to practice because he knew he wasn’t going to be bothered.”

“We went around the 18 holes and left him on his own. I was really impressed with his play,” he added. “He didn’t keep a score card. He put x’s and dots on his score card, which was indicative of what he was doing, apparently.”

The threesome played 18, with Benedix, an 18 handicap, shooting a 91. Benedix then played another nine with Johnson before calling it a day.

He said he took a special interest in following Johnson after the encounter. He was the only one to pick Johnson as his “partner” during a pro-am his club ran in conjunction with the Masters, matching his score with Johnson’s round. Unfortunately, it was on Saturday, the day Johnson shot his worst round, a 76.

“All of us were rooting for him, but of the 68 guys that were playing that day, I was the only one to pick Zach,” he said. “It was a bad day for him.” “The guy’s a champ,” he added. “There’s no doubt about his attitude, his ability, the way he does things. You can tell he’s got what it takes to be top-notch. I think he’s going to set that PGA Tour on fire.”

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