J.T. Johnson leads early at Minnesota Amateur
First-round leader J.T. Johnson (MGA photo)
First-round leader J.T. Johnson (MGA photo)

DULUTH, Minn. — Less than 24 hours after losing in a playoff to Greg Murphy at the 2015 Minnesota Public Golf Association Senior Public Links Championship, J.T. Johnson proved one of the best characteristics any golfer can possess is a short memory.

Johnson fired a 2-under par 69 Monday to sit atop the leaderboard after the opening round of the 112th Minnesota Golf Association Amateur Championship at Northland Country Club, taking a two-stroke lead into the second round over Ben Welle who finished second with an even par 71.

"A 69 is pretty cool at Northland [Country Club],” Johnson said. “I was just riding yesterday—it was so fun because we were both playing good and the way [Murphy] held it together. I came in today thinking, ‘I’m driving the ball great, I’m chipping good, I’m actually putting good.’ This course is really tough, but if you can do those things, you can make some birdies.”

“Today was unbelievable—everything just clicked,” Johnson said following his round Monday. “I drove the ball perfect all day—I mishit one drive on 15 and flared it right and hit a tree. I chunked my second about 25 yards short and hit my putter as hard as I could and it rolled up to two inches.”

Opening the championship with a birdie on the first hole after putting his approach to five feet, Johnson would pull even with a bogey at the fourth before giving another stroke away with a second bogey at the sixth.

Rolling in his birdie look at the ninth hole to make the turn at even par, Johnson heated up during the final nine holes for the second consecutive day.

Johnson, Valleywood Golf Course, dropped to 1-under with his third birdie of the round at No. 11 and added another at the par-4 16th hole to move to 2-under.

From the left rough on the final hole Monday, Johnson put his approach to inside four feet where he would two-putt for par to shoot 69 to claim the first-round lead.

“I stood on the first hole and started my shot right over the out of bounds stakes and peeled it back in the fairway. I knew if I could do that, then I could play with these guys. It may be for only one round—I might shoot 80 tomorrow.”

“For the first time in my life two years ago, I shot a 63 and this round was way better. I hit a lot of good shots today but I could’ve birdied the last six holes,” he said. “Shooting [69] here on these greens, in this wind, with this field is way better than shooting 63 with your buddies,” he said.

Welle, Village Green Golf Club, playing in the first group of the day paced the field Monday carding an even par 71 to open the championship with the lead despite breezy conditions.

He began with a triple-bogey at the par-4 second hole but was able to recover with three consecutive birdies to get back to even par for the day. Welle was unable to roll in his par putt at the seventh and would make the turn at 1-over par.

He slipped up to begin the back nine with a bogey at the 10th hole but played solid over the final eight holes, carding two birdies at Nos. 13 and 15 to finish the opening round at even par 71 and into the early lead.

“Like most [State Amateur Championships] the greens are firm and the pins are tucked so my plan was to hit the fairway, hit the green and then two-putt,” Welle said following his round Monday. “I hit my driver really well today and gave myself opportunities to two-putt and make a couple birdies.”

“I missed some putts but hit some really good iron shots today. I knew it was going to be tough today—every year being around even par is a pretty good score. I was playing well, I had the hiccup on [No. 2] and just went from there,” he said.

Welle, a soon-to-be senior at the University of Kansas, finished second at the 2013 championship at Medina Golf and Country, one shot behind Sam Matthew.

Trent Peterson, winner in 2008, carded a 1-over par 72 to finish the first round in third place Monday despite struggling from the tee box for a good portion of the round.

“Today was good and bad—I lost the driver in the middle of the round and I was in the trees on about five holes,” Peterson said Monday. “I was able to punch out and get up-and-down two or three times—that’ll save a round for you.”

“I putted good and made the putts I should’ve made, so I basically held it together. It was tough out there and the wind was brutal. If I can hit the driver tomorrow I’ll be fine.”

Peterson, Valleywood Golf Course, began his round on the 10th tee and quickly dipped into red numbers with a birdie at the 11th.

He fell back to even with a bogey at the 14th, but Peterson would turn at 1-under after taking advantage of his birdie look at No. 17.

With an early bogey Peterson again drew even before adding another bogey at the par-3 fifth hole to move to 1-over.

The 2014 MGA Player of the Year answered with a birdie at the sixth hole and would finish his day with a bogey on his final hole to shoot 1-over par 72.

Andy Jacobson carded a 2-over par 73 Monday and sits tied for fourth place with Sammy Schmitz and Shell Wheeler, four strokes off the lead heading into Tuesday’s second round.

Beginning his round on the tenth tee, Jacobson carded three bogeys over the first nine holes to make the turn at 3-over before rolling in birdies at the first and fourth holes to get back to 1-over.

Jacobson, Eagle Creek Golf Club, would slip to 3-over after a bogey at the par-3 fifth hole and would finish his round at 74, carding four consecutive pars to finish the day.

“I absolutely love this golf course—it fits my eye,” Jacobson said Monday after playing his first round of tournament golf at Northland Country Club. “I was comfortable with the greens and I think you really have to respect the grains. I putted really well and I’d like to have one drive back.”

“I had a couple makeable putts, distance-wise, but when you’re above the hole I was just lagging to make the par. It always helps to putt well, but I think it’ll come down to who manages their game the best and puts their ball in the right spot,” Jacobson said.

The 2012 MGA Players’ champion said he’s trying to avoid overcomplicating his game plan this week and enjoy a course he’s playing for the first time.

“I’m just kind of up here relaxing on a family vacation and I’m here to have fun,” he said. “I was really anxious to see the course based on what I’ve heard about it and played [Sunday]. I hung in there today and didn’t really have it clicking, but I’m proud of a 73 and we’ll go from there.”

ABOUT THE Minnesota Amateur

In 1901, the first Amateur Championship concluded the MGA's inaugural meeting at the Meadow Brook Club in Winona. Thus, the MGA began a tradition that has carried into the present day. The MGA Amateur is now one of the largest golfing events in the state. Nearly 900 people enter the championship every year. It takes more than a dozen qualifying sites around the state to accommodate the competitors. 54 hole stroke play championship.

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