Johnson and Whaley Headed to U.S. Senior Amateur in North Carolina
July 30, 2019
By Nick Hunter
WACONIA, Minn. – In late May, J.T. Johnson posted a 1-under 71 to miss qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open by one stroke, but finished with low-amateur honors as the second alternate behind Minnesota Golf Hall of Famer Don Berry, who claimed the only spot into the championship.
“I wasn’t that disappointed,” said Johnson, who missed out on qualifying for his first USGA championship since playing in the U.S. Mid-Amateur in 2007. “I knew that it was Don’s first time that he ever made it,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I played for eagle on the very last hole, thinking that I needed an eagle to get in and really all I needed was birdie. When I saw that at the end, that was a little frustrating, but I was happy for Donny."
Johnson earned a bit of redemption Tuesday by carding a 2-under par 70 at Island View Golf Club to claim a share of medalist honors and a spot in the 2019 U.S. Senior Amateur Aug. 24-29 at Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, N.C.
“Somehow I felt pretty calm out there. Any time you come out here with this kind of competition and put it together, I putted the eyes out of the ball, but I just felt calm," Johnson said after qualifying Tuesday. "I went through a horrendous period in the last two months with my putter. To completely turn it around and find something and putt that well—it’s all just part of the journey.”
Johnson will be joined at his fourth-career USGA championship next month by his good friend Tom Whaley, who also carded a 2-under 70, needing a pair of birdies over his final three holes to earn the second qualifying spot.
“The funny thing is, at the beginning of the day, [Whaley] and I met on the range and he said to me, ‘I think it’s going to be you and I going to this thing,’” Johnson said, who is teaming up with Whaley at the Minnesota Golf Association Senior Four-Ball Championship in September. “I told him it couldn’t be any better than that. That was pretty cool.”
Johnson, a three-time Minnesota Public Golf Association Senior Public Links champion, found the sand off the first tee Tuesday, but recovered by hitting a hybrid to 10 feet, missing his eagle putt and tapped-in to quickly move into red figures.
After giving back a stroke with a bogey at the second, Johnson’s birdie putt found the bottom of the cup at the par-5 third with a putt that “never should’ve went in,” putting him back to 1-under for the day. Johnson would turn in even par following a second bogey of the round at the seventh.
Riding momentum with his putter Tuesday, Johnson rolled in his birdie chance at the 10th and left his birdie look at the 11th just short of the cup. Sticking his approach inside of four feet at the 12th, Johnson carded his fourth birdie of the day and added another at the 14th despite using the entire three minutes searching for his tee shot.
Following a bogey at the 17th, which dropped Johnson back to 2-under for the round, he needed one final up-and-down on the final hole to save par and qualify for his fourth USGA championship since 2002.
“I made a really, really bad bogey on 17. Just a bad tee shot, but I knew if I hung on, 2-under had a chance so I was thinking 3-under would be the medalist,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, I gassed my shot over the 18th—I was a little too charged up and didn’t know it. Pitched to 10 feet below the hole and made it. I was elated when I made it because I knew 70 had a really good chance.”
Johnson earned a spot in the 2002 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in 2002 and advanced to the U.S. Amateur at Merion Golf Club in 2005. In 2007, Johnson played in the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Bandon Dunes.
Whaley, winner of the 2009 Minnesota Golf Association Mid-Amateur Championship, made a deep run in his first event eligible as a senior player at 55-years-old last month, where he fell to Jim Lehman in the final match following four strong matches to reach the championship match.
“I was really happy that Jimmy Lehman decided to qualify somewhere else today and Jerry Rose was exempt,” Whaley laughed.
A bogey on his 15th hole Tuesday put Whaley back to even par for the day, but he would stick his approach to a foot at his 16th, rolling tapping in his birdie before drilled another birdie putt from 15 feet at his 17th hole to get to 2-under. Whaley sank a crucial par putt from 12 feet on the final hole to earn a share of medalist honors with Johnson to earn a trip to his third USGA event.
“I’ve been looking forward to this year for five years, because between 50 and 55, there isn’t much to play in,” Whaley said. “[Minneapolis Golf Club] just shut down because we’re doing the re-grassing project. I’ve been travelling a lot for work, but I’ve probably only played five times all month. I didn’t really know where I was at.
“Now I can do the [Senior Amateur] and I feel like I’m playing well enough and I'm still long enough to be competitive at this level. The [MGA Senior Players’] was a heck of a lot of fun. With golf, especially at our age, you have to keep the momentum going. I’m not a big practice guy because I’ve got a busy schedule, so it’s really more about how you feel. I’ve got a torn meniscus in my left knee, so I got a cortisone shot yesterday and I’m going to try to get surgery done in October, after golf season and before ski season, but it felt great today.”
Whaley first qualified for the U.S. Amateur Public Links at Edinburgh USA in 1992 before playing in the 1998 U.S. Mid-Amateur at NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio.
Alexandria, Minn., native Jerry Rose fell in the quarterfinals of last year’s championship at Eugene Country Club in Eugene, Ore., falling to Iowa’s Michael McCoy, 3 and 2. For his performance last year, Rose received an exemption into this year’s championship.
Scott Ainsworth, from Eden Prairie, Minn., and Tim Peterson, of Forest Lake, Minn., finished as first and second alternates, respectively.
Next month’s championship is the first USGA event to be contested at Old Chatham Golf Club. Built in 2001, the Rees Jones design can be stretched to over 7,100 yards. The 2019 U.S. Senior Amateur saw 2,466 qualifying entries, which is second-most in championship history.