Quinn, Johnson take similar paths to return

Kevin Johnson (left) and Fran Quinn, together again on the PGA Tour.

Kevin Johnson (left) and Fran Quinn, together again on the PGA Tour.

Dust in Sioux City never tasted any different than it did in Midland or Boise. Same for Wichita and Shreveport. But with each swallow, they would wash it down with a voice.

Dream on.

So that’s exactly what Fran Quinn and Kevin Johnson did.

Dollars in Canada differ from those in New Zealand and Australia. More confounding are the South African rand, Thai baht and Chinese renminbi. Yet with every exchange, they would get back familiar currency along with a voice.

Dream on.

So Fran Quinn and Kevin Johnson did.

photo

Kevin Johnson

Good tournaments, bad tournaments, big checks, no checks. It came with the job, as did the rigors of travel, but at the end of a trip there were anxious children, a supportive wife and a voice.

Dream on.

So Fran Quinn and Kevin Johnson did. They continued with what had begun nearly 30 years earlier when they were Massachusetts junior stars. True, it had dragged on not quite as they had planned, yet a re-scripted dream is still a dream, is it not?

• • •

At 44 (Quinn) and 42 (Johnson), they are among new faces on the 2010 PGA Tour scene. Just don’t confuse them as rookies, even if you need the archives for proof.

Johnson played the PGA Tour in 2001, a dozen years removed from his Clemson career.

Quinn stretches further, his first go-round on the PGA Tour having come in 1992. Yes, it was 18 seasons ago when Quinn soaked in the big-league spotlight. To get a grasp of just how deep a time tunnel he has traveled, in Quinn’s final tournament that season (the H-E-B Texas Open), persimmon was still present; Roger Maltbie and Brandel Chamblee were competitors, not TV guys; Dillard Pruitt was a player, not a rules official; Nick Price, the eventual winner, owned just one major; and a dashing left-hander who wore his collar up, Phil Mickelson, was playing only his 10th PGA Tour event as a professional.

Welcome back, Mr. Quinn. Anything different?

“The stage has certainly gotten bigger,” Quinn said. “But I’m excited and eager. I love to compete – always have – and for all the times I was frustrated, this is so satisfying.”

And you, Mr. Johnson?

“Hopefully, what I’ve gotten all these years is experience that will be worth it,” he said.

Time will tell, but what intrigues about their stories is the mirror. Look at Quinn, you see Johnson. Look at Johnson, you see Quinn. There are so many similarities, it’s as if in their teenage years they pledged allegiance to the same blueprint. Yes, they can laugh about it, but no, it hasn’t been by design.

“This isn’t the way we drew up the game plan,” Johnson said.

Neither did Quinn plan on so many years in the minor leagues when coming out of Northwestern in 1987.

Instead, they had dreamed the junior golfer’s dreams while growing up west (Quinn) and south (Johnson) of Boston. Quinn remembers first meeting Johnson at a local qualifier for the Insurance Youth Classic. What has evolved for these two is a remarkable timeline that makes you think you’re seeing double.

photo

Fran Quinn

Johnson won the State Open in 1986, Quinn in 1990.

Quinn won the 1986 State Amateur, Johnson each of the next two.

Quinn played in his first PGA Tour event in 1988, Johnson in 1989.

Quinn has played in three U.S. Opens, Johnson two.

Quinn has taken his game to South Africa and Asia, Johnson to South Africa and Canada.

Where there is some separation is in the form of Johnson’s more heralded amateur career – first three-time All-American in Clemson history, 1987 U.S. Amateur Public Links title, 1988 World Team Amateur, 1989 Walker Cup.

But mostly there is a sameness that sits at the heart of their friendship, right down to where they rank in career money on the Nationwide Tour – Quinn, with 326 and four wins, is sixth ($1,164,696); Johnson, with 320 tournaments and six victories, is 10th ($1,081,418).

That is why they embrace 2010 with an appreciation that cannot be measured, because together they have reached their dream – at least when spots are available. But when they aren’t, they adjust, which is why Quinn was in Panama, not Phoenix, winning again on the Nationwide Tour.

“We’ve had a lot of fun, a lot of travels,” Quinn said. “Now, we’ve embarked on a new journey.”

• • •

Never have they been spared the cycle that consumes all golfers – ups, then downs – but Johnson and Quinn always have found support where it matters most. At home.

“What am I going to do with an unemployed golfer?” Christa Johnson has told her husband during periods of doubt. “Go out and play. You’re not trained for anything else.”

Lori Quinn used to work “like a madwoman” as a per diem nurse, just to build time to travel with, and caddie for, Fran. That was when they were dating, but it carried over for a few years after they were married in 1994.

“It definitely wasn’t a dream that I didn’t think could be fulfilled,” Lori said. “He isn’t chasing a pipe dream. I believe he has what it takes.”

Along the way, playing privileges have been lost, but not the passion to compete. So even when they’ve been relegated to lower-tier status such as past champion, Johnson and Quinn have not quit. Denied numerous times at Q-School, each has been resourceful. Most notably, Quinn in 1999 headed to Asia.

When he called Lori at 4 a.m. with the news that he had won the Thailand Open, they cried for joy. One week later, again at 4 a.m., Fran Quinn called the house in central Massachusetts to say he had shot 65 to win the Omega PGA Championship in China.

“I said to him, ‘You did not,’ ” Lori said. “I totally thought he was pulling my leg.”

That time, they shared laughter, which is a commodity neither family takes for granted, because it keeps them strong in a game that can beat you in so many ways. Johnson was there in 2004-05, with only $120,811 in combined prize money.

Then, in 2006, he won. It rejuvenated him. In 2009, Johnson won twice more to finish 13th on the money list and earn back his PGA Tour card.

“With KJ, he always seems to dig deep when it’s all on the line,” Jim Arrigo said. “When he has to do something to keep it going, he does it.”

Arrigo was trying to build a Dodge dealership in the West Palm Beach, Fla., area when he agreed to meet Johnson in 1995. The golfer was looking for sponsors. The deal was four shares at $5,000 per, but Arrigo blew Johnson away. He would buy all four shares.

“He came looking for $5,000 and he left with $20,000,” Arrigo said.

Why?

“You could tell he had character; he had integrity,” Arrigo said. “He looked at me and said, ‘I know I’ve got it. I just need a chance.’ ”

Having come and gone in 2001 when Johnson finished 171st on the money list, that chance has returned. The fact that it comes in tandem with a second go-round for Quinn, who was 25th in ’09 Nationwide earnings, makes it even sweeter.

“To be hanging out on the biggest (golf) stage in the world with your best buddy,” Johnson said. “We’ll help each other get through it together.”

Together in early January they toured some of the courses that will test them this PGA Tour season. At one point, at Spyglass on the Monterey Peninsula, the weather was pristine, the golf splendid and the enthusiasm reminiscent of those days when they were teenagers.

Quinn turned to his longtime friend and said, “KJ, it doesn’t get any better than this.”

It’s called living the dream.

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