SOUTHPORT, England – Alex Johnson learned a valuable lesson about links golf in his opening round of the match-play stages of the British Amateur Championship: Links golf doesn’t respect a five-hole lead.
With steady golf through Hillside’s first 12 holes, the Arizona native built a comfortable lead against Turkey’s Hamza Sayin, the first Turkish amateur to make match play of the British Amateur.
The next five holes weren’t quite as comfortable. In fact, they were decidedly uncomfortable.
Johnson, who recently completed his senior year at the University of the Pacific, lost three of the next four holes to find himself heading down the 17th. Both men bunkered their tee shots, and Sayin made a good up-and-down for par from the back of the green. That left Johnson with two putts from 10 feet for the match.
Somehow, the old adage “if you have two putts, take them” got lost in the flight across the Atlantic. Johnson blew his first putt 3 feet past the hole but managed to keep his nerve to hole the putt and close out the match, 2 and 1.
“I played really steady over the first 12 holes, but I actually played pretty well over the next five, too,” Johnson said. “It’s really hard to get the ball close to these flags if you just run off the green.”
Johnson bogeyed 13, 15 and 16 to let Sayin back into the match. However, Sayin made some pretty good par saves in that stretch, too.
“I knew he would have a good stretch of holes at some point,” Johnson said. “He had a bad stretch on the front nine, but he’s got a great short game, and he came back at me.”
Johnson is getting his first taste of links golf and handled himself pretty well for a rookie. “You need to use a lot of imagination and a lot of feel,” he said. “You get a lot of strange bounces and you just have to handle that.
“We play a lot of match play in our team squad sessions, and my (Arizona) state amateur is match play, so I’m comfortable with this form of golf.”
Johnson decided to sample the British Amateur only when he discovered he was eligible for the championship. Johnson won the Fresno Lexus Classic in March, and that gave him status on the R&A’s World Amateur Golf Ranking and a ticket into the British Amateur. (Johnson is the 435th-ranked player on the WAGR table.)
“My goal at the start of the week was just to make the match-play stages,” Johnson said. “So I’m really proud I’ve done that. I’ll just keep going and see how far I get. I’ll stand on the first tee and give it my all.”
Johnson has turned his trip to Hillside into a family affair. Dad T.J. is caddying for him this week, while sister Emily and mom Jenni are walking the fairways.
Johnson now faces Frenchman Adrien Saddier in the third round in a bid to become the first U.S. player to win the British Amateur since Drew Weaver at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2007.
Winning might be beyond Johnson’s reach, but at least he has the incentive to better teammate T.J. Bordeaux’s British Amateur record. Bordeaux appeared in the 2008 championship. He also won his opening match but lost in the next round.
England’s Greg Eason suffered the British Amateur medalist curse. The Englishman, who has just finished his freshman year at the University of Central Florida, went down, 2 and 1, to fellow Englishman Matthew Wallace.
Eason’s loss was almost predictable. Eight of the past 12 British Amateur medalists have lost in the opening round.
Former East Tennessee State player Michael Stewart was one of the highly rated players to get through the first round. The Scotsman defeated England’s Mark Young, 5 and 4. Tom Lewis also is through to the next round. The Englishman defeated University of Tennessee player Garrick Porteous by two holes.
New Zealand’s Ben Campbell advanced when he defeated Scotland’s Conor O’Neil by one hole.