Shannon Johnson (USGA photo)
For Shannon Johnson
, it was a dream ending to a dream summer. The 35-year-old finally
hoisted her USGA trophy at the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, but it didn’t come without doubts.
Those can easily creep into your head when you’re in the mix so many times but always walk away empty-handed. Before this year’s Women’s Mid-Amateur at Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis, Mo., Johnson had made three consecutive trips to the semifinals, even advancing to the final in 2016 before falling to Julia Potter-Bobb. She had begun to grapple with the idea that maybe a win in this championship wasn’t in the cards.
Over the summer, Johnson played and won on just about every stage possible: the New England Women’s Amateur
, the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur
and the Keyes Cup
. In the week leading up to the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, she played the Massachusetts Men's Mid-Amateur, making the 36-hole cut and finishing T-48. Johnson relished the latter experience, and you’ll likely see her in that field again in summers to come.
Johnson plays out of the same club, Thorny Lea, in Brockton, Mass., as 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale
. As a cold-weather climate dweller, she puts her clubs away at the end of the fall and doesn’t pull them out again until the early summer. Hockey keeps her busy in the in-between.
The key in this 2018 winning streak has been patience or flexibility. The window into Johnson’s golf-centric brain sheds some light on what it’s like to grow up in the game, find time for that game in the real world, and still play it at the top level.
Part 1: Short Answer
Age when you started playing golf:
Age when you competed in your first tournament:
Your early golf hero(es):
Phil Mickelson – watched him in middle school, and then he was my favorite golfer in high school and then that’s kind of when Tiger Woods got on the scene. Most kids my age gravitate toward Tiger now.
Number of tournaments played in the last calendar year:
Favorite course(s): Pebble Beach
Any USGA championship
Do you have any golf-related superstitions, especially in competition?
I kind of started doing something this year at the Mass Am at George Wright Golf Course. After being at the course for so many days we got to know the folks that worked in the restaurant there. They had a girl I got to talk to a lot. I had a little bit of a rough stroke play there. I hit it fine, I just couldn’t make any putts. She came up to me and she goes, ‘You need to put a penny in your back pocket.’ She’s like, ‘That will bring you good luck.’ So I looked all over my bag, I didn’t have any coins but I did have this marker that someone had given me over St. Paddy’s Day that had a horseshoe on it. So I stuck that in my back pocket and started making a lot of putts. So every tournament that I played in after that, I did the same thing. Kind of random, but I’ll keep it going for awhile.
Part 2: Open Answer
Please give a brief description of your game for someone who has never seen you play.
I would say sometimes it can get a little boring if someone was watching me play. I’m pretty consistent off the tee, I seem to hit a lot of fairways, I hit a lot of greens, if I’m playing well I’ll be rolling the ball well and making some putts. If not, it’s pretty easy pars most of the time. Other people would think my game looks pretty boring most of the time, but I’ll take that any day of the week.
You’ve won tournaments playing stroke play and match play this summer, and throughout your career. Which format is more challenging, or more enjoyable, or just generally preferable for you?
We look forward to playing match play, probably just because we don’t get to play it as often, other than the USGA events. Usually we just have one state match-play tournament. It’s fun to go more head to head with someone. Golf is, in the stroke-play part, you’re really just playing the golf course. At times it can get a little boring. You go out there and you’re having an awesome round and then all of a sudden, you have a couple bad shots – a triple or a quad – and there goes your round. But if you do that in match play, you only lose one hole. So I like them both, but I would say match play is probably my preferable format.
From South Dakota – to college golf in New Mexico and Indiana – and then to Massachusetts, you’ve almost always been a golfer in a cold-weather climate. What are your thoughts on putting away the clubs during winter – is that a good thing or a bad thing for your game?
It’s something I’ve always grown up with and it’s always kind of nice at the end of the year to put your clubs away, not really think about it. The past few years, once the (U.S. Women’s) Mid-Am is over, that’s the end of my golf season. Now I’ve got to get back to work, work really hard the last couple months of the year to get ready for the next year. That’s kind of my outlet that I don’t have to think about golf. I can still play hockey with my friends.
This last winter, I qualified for the U.S. Four-Ball with Megan Buck so we had to do a lot more winter practicing since I probably have really since college. I don’t know if that was part of the reason why I had a little more successful summer because it gave me some more time to get ready for a tournament that’s in April. Usually I don’t get to touch my clubs really until June, just with work kind of getting in the way. I don’t mind it, it’s always nice to take a break every once in a while from it. It’s a chance to do some other things with your life.
Why do so many hockey players seem to be good golfers and how has being a hockey player affected your swing and your game?
The really good hockey players have good hands, hand-eye coordination. I think a lot of the guys, they get some crazy feet on their shots. Just the torque they have on their shots, it really just kind of flows right into the golf game and the swing. There are so many great NHL players that are unbelievable golfers. Up in Brockton (Mass.) there’s a lot of ex-players that come down and shoot every once in awhile and just watching them hit the ball is super fun.
We grew up skating and we grew up with pick-up games out at the pond and I think it just kind of helped me just with my golf game get a little further along, faster than these other kids that didn’t have the opportunity to grow up with that.
This year you have competed against men, mid-amateur women, and junior/college women. What do you enjoy most about competing against each group?
I think I would say, as far as the most people I know, obviously the mid-am events. The USGA Mid-Am, just because that’s my fifth time competing in that and you just see all the same faces every year. Now you’re seeing a lot more people you played with or against in college, so it’s always fun to kind of reminisce about different things and just to catch up with them every year.
This was new ground for me playing a couple times against the men in a couple events, which was unbelievable. Competing at Thorny Lea, there’s so many good players there, I think every time you go out with those guys you learn something new. Or just talking to them you pick up on different things, how they see the course and what they think about. I think that helps you become a better player, to understand the game. There’s just so much knowledge out there that those guys have that maybe I haven’t. They’ve been to so many national events and are such good players themselves so it’s always fun to chat with them and see what they have to say about different things.
What ideas do you have for increasing participation in women's mid-amateur golf?
There’s a couple things. My first time I played in a Mid-Am was when I was 25. Now when you get out of college if you don’t go pro, essentially you’re starting in the work force, trying to get a job lined up, and if you get a job lined up, you get a couple weeks off – usually for vacation – every year. So are you going to try to play in golf tournaments or are you going to have more fun vacations without golf? So when I turned 25, I was out there within the first few years, qualified and that tournament was in Ann Arbor, Mich. So I played that, I played pretty decent and I think I got beat in the first round of match play. Lost fairly easy, and I said, ‘I took a week of vacation to pay my own expenses and go out there? I like golf, but maybe this is not the right time for me.' I think that’s what a lot of kids are facing who get into the work world, just not having the time or flexibility to go play in the tournament. I think the next one I played was six years later. Having my job a little more under control, I had the time. That’s one thing that really hurts our numbers.
Two, a lot of people are getting married and having kids and just having the time away from a family to go play and practice is tough. You see a lot more people out there having kids, you don’t see them for a couple years. They want to get back into it but it's tough balancing the work and personal life all at the same time.
What is left on your tournaments-to-win list, or at least, what’s a goal you still have for 2019?
Obviously it’s been a long time coming, sort of frustrating couple years not winning the Mid-Am, really coming so close. The finals, the semifinals, you’re back in the finals. You kind of learn that maybe it’s just not in the cards for you to win, but to do it this year was definitely cool with the year I had. I think going into 2019, obviously it would be amazing to win another USGA event, whatever tournament it is. But I think having an opportunity to play in the U.S. Women’s Open next year probably is going to be the highlight of the year. If I can go out there and play well and if I can make the cut, that would really be the icing on all of this cake that really has come in 2018. That’s probably what I’m most looking forward to. I’ll get to play in really four USGA events next year, and I’ll treat them all the same as far as preparation. The U.S. Women’s Open will be amazing to go to.
How does it feel now that you are a USGA champion? Does it feel different when you arrive at a tournament, when you set your goals?
Honestly, it’s been a month since I’ve won and it’s still surreal. It hasn’t fully set in yet, which is so weird. I think I just wanted it for so long and I had a little doubt in my mind after last year, getting beat in the semis. Maybe it’s just not meant to be. Just everything that happened this year, to be able to cap it off with a win was amazing. Hopefully the next couple months, it will set in a little more. It’s something that I’ll never take for granted, but it will be fun to be able to go out next year and people will say she’s a USGA champion. It will probably set in a little bit more.