A Birdie on First Playoff Hole Gives Johnson Second MPGA Senior Public Links Title
July 16, 2017
By Nick Hunter
MONTICELLO, Minn. – Sinking his four-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole Sunday at Monticello Country Club, J.T. Johnson defeated Mark Frie and claimed his second Minnesota Public Golf Association Senior Public Links Championship title.
Johnson set the pace after carding a 2-under par 69 to open the championship Saturday before rolling in a short birdie putt on the final hole Sunday to finish tied with Frie at 1-over par 143 as Johnson would prevail in a playoff to collect his 14th state victory.
“It’s been a while since I’ve really done anything,” he said. “Playing with [Steve Whittaker] meant the world to me because he’s won as many, if not more titles than I have. To be in the mix means a lot. I’ve had some wins but this is a much deeper field with some really good players. I don’t think people really know how good the talent is at our level.
“This is a strange game—I was losing it out there,” Johnson said of his up-and-down final round Sunday. “Yesterday was calm and I took it really patiently and today got off to a really good start. I missed a couple putts early and it just plays games with your head and it took me out of it.”
Johnson got his final round started by rolling in a birdie at the par-4 second but would give back a shot with a bogey at the third. With a birdie and three bogeys over the next six holes, Johnson’s margin shrunk to two as he turned at even par for the championship.
A bogey at the 12th put Johnson into a tie with Frie before Johnson’s tee shot found the hazard at the par-4 13th. His third landed just off the left edge and Johnson would chip in for par for a spectacular save to remain at 1-over for the championship. Over the par-5 15th green with his second, Johnson hit a poor chip shot and left himself a lengthy birdie putt, which found the bottom of the cup to get Johnson back to 1-over.
Heading to the final hole down one stroke following a bogey at the 17th, Johnson drilled a 3-wood to the back edge of the par-5 18th green with a chance for the victory with an eagle, but left his putt short, rolling in birdie to force a playoff with Frie.
During the playoff Frie chipped to 12 feet where he two-putted for par, while Johnson’s chip rolled to five feet and he would convert birdie to clinch the victory.
“Instead of letting it come to you, I thought I needed to hit it even closer and then you start forcing things—I don’t know if I even hit seven greens the final round. I felt like I was not in it. I felt like there was a number out there and I was not shooting it,” Johnson said.
Since his first MPGA Senior Public Links Championship win in 2014 at Pokegama Golf Course, Johnson has fared well at the event, falling in a playoff to Greg Murphy in 2015 before notching a top-10 finish last year at Como Golf Course.
Sunday’s win is Johnson’s first victory since winning the Twin Cities Senior Championship last season at Bunker Hills Golf Club. He’s also claimed victories at the MPGA Four-Ball Championship (2013, 2015); MPGA Mid-Public Links (2005, 2008); MGA Mixed Team (2009); Twin Cities Senior Championship (2014, 2016); MPGA Combination Championship (2009-10, 2013) and the MGA Team Championship in 2013. He finished as low amateur at the 2010 Tapemark Charity Pro-Am in 2010.
Frie had the luxury of playing on his home course and took full advantage during the final round Sunday. Beginning the day five shots back of Johnson’s lead, Frie started quickly by rolling in his downhill 15-foot birdie look at the second and carded a second birdie at the fourth to move to 1-over for the tournament.
He would draw even for the day with a pair of bogeys at the fifth and eighth holes, but bounced back by converting his birdie chance at the ninth to turn at 2-over for the championship.
After back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th holes, Frie overtook Johnson and would carry a one-shot lead to the final hole where he made par and Johnson birdied to force extra holes before falling to Johnson on the first playoff hole.
“I played really well both days and made a lot of putts today—didn’t make any putts yesterday,” Frie said Sunday after his second-place finish. “I knew I needed to make birdies today. The leaders are going to play it safe and try and make par and keep it around 71-72. If I made some birdies and didn’t have any mistakes I had a chance to catch them and that’s what happened.
“I’m 59—you don’t get many more chances to win. Playing on my home course certainly helped—I’ve been here for 50 years and know this course inside and out, but there is some good competition at this tournament.”
Opening the championship with a 2-over par 73 Saturday, John Anderson picked up two strokes during the final round Sunday, carding an even par 71 to finish in third place at 144, while defending champion Scott Hogan placed fourth at 145.
66TH MPGA SENIOR PUBLIC LINKS CHAMPIONSHIP
MONTICELLO COUNTRY CLUB
6,453 YARDS, PAR 71
1. J.T. Johnson, Valleywood GC, 69-74—143 (won playoff)
2. Mark Frie, Monticello CC, 74-69—143
3. John Anderson, Bunker Hills GC, 73-71—144
4. Scott Hogan, Cannon GC, 75-70—145
T5. Bob Neuberger, Rush Creek GC, 75-71—146
T5. Steve Whittaker, Pebble Creek GC, 71-75—146
T7. Jon Empanger, Island View GC, 74-73—147
T7. Rick Frieburg, Monticello CC, 73-74—147
T7. John Hawkinson, Chisago Lakes GC, 70-77—147
T7. Bill Tadewald, Bunker Hills GC, 77-70—147
For complete tournament results go to: www.golfgenius.com/pages/3334361199918733761