Jennifer Johnson wins Mobile Bay LPGA Classic

Jennifer Johnson acknowledges the crowd after completing play in the final round of the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic.

MOBILE, Ala. – When the LPGA birdiefest known as the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic was over, the last woman standing was Jennifer Johnson, a third-year player who quietly maneuvered her way up a packed leaderboard of all-stars. Go low or go home was the theme of the week, and 21-year-old Johnson delivered with a 21-under 267 on the RTJ’s Crossings Course.

Johnson played alongside defending champ Stacy Lewis, who had her own chance at making it three in a row in ’Bama but came up three shots short. Before the pair walked out of the scoring area, Lewis told Johnson to put her head down, walk straight to the range and talk to no one. There was a playoff possibility, and Lewis wanted Johnson to stay focused.

Johnson, however, obliged the Golf Channel’s interview request and stopped for a chat. In the end, it didn’t matter. No one caught the reserved Californian and she walked off the range all smiles, her father Mike there with a “Good job, champ.”

“I’m a little shocked,” said Johnson. “I didn’t even realize I shot 65.”

Johnson said she can’t remember playing on a Sunday with so much tension. The lead changed so many times it took an army of volunteers to keep up with the 18th-hole leaderboard. Johnson’s mother, Sue, took to vacuuming the house when Johnson was on the 13th hole.

“She couldn’t take it,” said Mike, who watched the back nine from the hospitality tent.

From the funny-how-things-work-out department, Johnson saw her instructor, Steve Bann, two weeks ago only because she missed the cut in Kingsmill. She and her father flew to Tampa for a last-minute putting lesson. There it was decided that the forward press didn’t suit Johnson’s style. She abandoned the blade putter she was using and brought out a Scotty Cameron Futura, or “the spaceship” as she calls it. The new putter helped promote the pendulum stroke she used when she finished runner-up at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

Her caddie, Rick Wynn, a man who has 20 years in the business and five wins on three different tours, is Johnson’s third caddie of 2013. Last year she went through seven caddies.

Today’s victory indicates that Wynn might stick around.

Johnson holed out for eagle on the ninth hole (her last) in Round 1 to set up her monster week. Sunday, she made four back-nine birdies on Nos. 13, 14, 16 and 17 to put herself in front of the horserace. She made 25 birdies for the week.

The Crossings Course was set up for low numbers, in part due to greens that have matured enough to hold approach shots, dry fairways and cooler temperatures that stunted the rough. For tournament director Jonathan Romeo, it was a beautiful thing.

“The more darts that get thrown, the better,” said Romeo, who figures with every course record that falls, his tournament gets more press.

Sunday’s round featured a pair of 63s from Pornanong Phatlum (T-2) and Jiyai Shin (T-4). Anna Nordqvist set the new record on Saturday with an 11-under 61.

Johnson’s previous best finish on the LPGA was a T-8 in Prattville, leading one to believe she feels at home in Alabama.

“I think the barbecue has something to do with it because I’m a real foodie and when I eat good, I’m happy,” Johnson said.

This week Johnson and her father discovered “The Shed,” a hole-in-the-wall Mike said from the outside, looks like a place he wouldn’t even get his oil changed. But Jennifer found the best baked beans she’s ever tasted and the pulled chicken . . . almost as sweet as the tea.

Johnson walked out of the media room in Mobile $180,000 richer and carrying a bouquet of flowers. Mike took a couple of “Hush Ya’ll” signs, used to quiet the Southern crowds.

Never mind those. Tonight, it’s OK to be loud.

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