Zach Johnson Talks about Meeting Pope Francis in Rome

Zach Johnson, Luke Donald, Ryder Cup, Rome,(Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Zach Johnson, Luke Donald, Ryder Cup, Rome,(Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) /

Where do you go and what do you do when you meet the Pope?  Thousands can have an “audience,” which is what it is called even if you are among throngs in St. Peter’s Square during one of the Pope’s blessings or speeches.

Few get to meet the Holy See in person, up close and personal. However, Zach Johnson and Luke Donald and their wives were introduced to him as part of their whirlwind tour of Italy in advance of next year’s Ryder Cup. That’s called a “private audience.”

“It was amazing. I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t assume, but I’ve got to assume it was one of the shortest visits to the Vatican without seeing anything in the Vatican except for the Pope. But that was awesome,” Johnson explained about the brief encounter.

“To take a little bit of time out of his day to share with us was very humbling.”

"“He kind of cracked a couple jokes, which was kind of cool.” – Zach Johnson"

There is some protocol involved. As Johnson outlined, men need to wear a dark suit. Women have to wear skirts that are to the knee or below and must wear something to cover their shoulders and arms.

And it goes without saying that they needed to be on their best behavior, not that either the Johnsons or Donalds would do something distasteful in general and certainly not in front of someone of that stature.

"“It felt like 30 to 40 minutes, it was probably all of about seven or eight around him. His health’s not great. He’s great upstairs. He’s got some physical ailments, knee or hip or both, I can’t recall,” Johnson noted. “He kind of cracked a couple jokes, which was kind of cool.”"

So did one of the Pope’s assistants.

“He was like, ‘Yeah, the Pope got up at 4:00 today instead of 3:30. He felt he didn’t need 30 more minutes to do nothing, something like that,’” Johnson noted. “He gets up really early, I guess, he prays all in the morning and then kind of does his due diligence.”

Zach Johnson relished the incredible moment.

According to Johnson, the private audience was arranged by the Italian Golf Federation and the Italian Olympic Committee.

When asked if the moment felt bigger than himself, Zach Johnson said, “I love those moments.  Those are some of my fondest moments that I’ve had where I feel the size of about like that.”

He held his thumb and forefinger up with very little space between them indicating how small it made him feel.

"“Depending upon your faith background, he’s a man that is certainly revered. I want to say they called him the highest priest or the holy priest,” Johnson explained.  “Clearly he has a lot of responsibility and, I mean, I don’t know many other people that would be more well-known than him around the world.”"

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Even those who are not particularly religious have regard for the office which represents about 1.3 billion Catholics around the globe.

And as many stories at the time related, Johnson and Donald gifted The Pope with a replica Ryder Cup.  Each of them received a memento from the Pope in return.