Quiet intensity fuels Johnson
For most girls, it would have been the all-time sacrifice. Others might have considered it the impossible decision: Attend the junior prom or a qualifer for the U.S. Women’s Amateur?
Jennifer Johnson, however, didn’t hesitate when faced with that decision last year. She turned down the dance invitation and went to the qualifier, which got her into the bigger dance. It’s a good thing, too, because Johnson reached the round of 32, where she fell to Carlota Ciganda.
Of course, that was just a prelude of bigger things to come, as Johnson successfully climbed the match-play tree at this year’s Women’s Am before being beaten by Jennifer Song in the final.
“I just think it’s a really cool sport,” the 18-year-old said with a shrug of her shoulders when asked why she decided to focus so hard on golf. “It’s a non-team sport, so it’s all on you.”
Next week, Johnson, who is ranked No. 11 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, will play in her last event as a junior golfer. This being her first Junior Solheim Cup, Johnson is excited about playing for captain Nancy Lopez and the strength of the American team. The match-play format won’t be an issue as she doesn’t prefer one to the other. Besides, she’s gotten a lot of practice as of late.
“Match play, you can definitely at the right times be more aggressive on some shots and you can just approach it differently,” she said.
The team-golf aspect will carry over nicely next season when she joins the ranks of the reigning NCAA Champion Arizona State Sun Devils. Her mother, Sue, said it’s something Jennifer has had her eye on since the seventh grade. Located in Tempe, Ariz., the school gives Johnson a chance to leave her La Quinta, Calif., home without venturing too far away.
“Tempe is such a cool town, the golf is really good there, good facilities, great coaches,” she said. “I just really like it there and it just fits me really well.”
Johnson is undoubtedly qualified to be on the team. She won the 2008 California Women’s State Amateur title, made an appearance at this year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship and has seven AJGA victories, including the 2008 Rolex Tournament of Champions, which she named as one of her greatest accomplishments.
“That was just such a tough course,” she said. “It was just a good week.”
That victory, however, may have been topped last week by her run at the Women’s Am.
“I think the Women’s Am is a bigger accomplishment because the players are generally older and more experienced and it’s also just a longer week of golf and more of a test than four days of stoke play,” she said.
Jennifer is nothing if not dedicated to the sport as she has sacrificed an entire summer to find the best competition, even if it did mean making circles around the country. She left home June 27 and did not return until Aug. 10 – a circuit that included two stopovers at her grandparents’ house in Pennsylvania to rest. Her father, Mike, a management consultant, generally takes summers off to be by Jennifer’s side and Sue, who manages a book store, is present as much as possible. Though this packed schedule may seem like a lot of pressure for a teenager, none of that is visible in Johnson’s mannerisms on the course.
“I feel pretty calm, I try and do everything I can to prepare for the shot and then after I hit it there’s nothing I can really do,” she said.
Johnson’s father said mental toughness is one of her strongest assets. He also knew even before the U.S. Women’s Amateur that something great was bound to happen soon.
“She’s had some 69’s lately that could have been 64 – kind of get the feeling something is going to pop soon,” he said as he watched his daughter compete against Kimberly Kim in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior.
The only thing that would rattle Johnson? Unforced errors.
“I think if I three-putt or do a course management error – those two things just, they’re kind of avoidable in some ways. Avoidable mistakes, that kind of frustrates me the most,” she said.
Outside golf, there isn’t much that gets to the rising college freshman either. Her biggest fear going into college? Dorm life.
But after observing Johnson’s unflappable exterior, it’s hard to imagine any roommate she couldn’t get along with.