HIS GROOVES WON’T be coming back anytime soon, but 1976 Port Angeles High School graduate Jerry Johnson is headed to play at the 2010 U.S. Senior Open at Sahalle Country Club in Redmond on July 29-Aug. 1.
Johnson, 53, qualified for the 31st U.S. Senior Open after a whirlwind 24 hours.
He arrived at the 6,797-yard, par-72 Creekside Golf Club in Salem, Ore. with his trusty cavity-backed set of Titleist irons for a Sunday practice round.
Johnson’s playing partners queried him about his clubs, wondering if his set conformed to the United States Golf Association’s specifications.
They didn’t, with Johnson having been led to believe that his U-shaped grooved clubs would be acceptable for local qualification.
The problem? This event was a combined sectional qualifier with none of the leeway of an event lower down the qualification ladder.
“That [not understanding it was a sectional and not a local qualifier] was part of the confusion, the other was that the Oregon Golf Association mailed out the rules and regulations late and I just got them yesterday,” Johnson said last Friday.
He was able to find some backup clubs on site with Oregon Golf Association staff member Craig Winter letting Johnson use his personal set of Titleist blades ferried in from Winter’s home in Wilsonville.
He still needed some wedges, however.
Cue the theme song from the Benny Hill Show and cut to a frantic Johnson traveling the length and width of the Willamette River Valley in a desperate search for some legal clubs.
He arrived after the local Golfsmith closed and area courses didn’t seem to have anything in stock.
He was finally able to locate some Nike wedges that fit the bill at Fiddler’s Green in Eugene.
Johnson raced down I-5, arriving at the course just as the pro shop opened.
The purchase made, he zoomed back up to Salem and made it back to the course with about an hour before his 11 a.m. tee time.
Johnson shook off a three-putt bogey on the first, getting his chipping and most importantly his putting game rolling as the round wore on.
He one-putted nine times on the round to get to 2-under with two holes to play.
“I thought par-par was going to be a good score and would probably get me there,” Johnson said.
After all of the hassle he went to just to compete, qualifying just couldn’t be so easy for him.
He air-mailed the par-3 17th green, and faced with a fluffy lie, he was unable to get it up and down, giving away one stroke heading into No. 18.
There’s no leader board marching around during these qualifiers, but knowing he was close, his nerves kicked in heading to the 18th teebox.
He then proceeded to “hit my worst swing of the day right into a jungle.”
A drive so bad that it conjured up images of The Hindenburg exploding.
“Walking off the tee I thought I had blown it and I was about ready to cry,” Johnson said.
“About 100 yards out I did stop and think that a double bogey for a 73 might just get me there, so I tried to block things out.”
Fortunately, a hawk-eyed forecaddie caught sight of Johnson’s ball that had caromed off a tree and was in a legal but untenable position near the 10th tee.
He laid up back in the fairway with Winter’s trusty 7-iron and eventually two-putted for a spot-clinching bogey and a round of par golf.
It was the third straight year Johnson had attempted to qualify for the open.
Johnson is a teaching pro with First Tee of Olympia, which aims to introduce, teach and promote the game of golf to youth.
Under the guidance of PGA professionals like Johnson, youth from the ages of 8-17 receive on-going golf classes and valuable life skill lessons at little or no cost.
Johnson has a touch of the golfing vagabond in him, having worked in golf course maintenance for 15-20 years before becoming an assistant golf pro in North Carolina in 1998.
He might be a familiar face to many area golfers, having spent 2000-2001 as an assistant at Sequim’s Cedars at Dungeness Golf Course before moving on to Monroe Golf & Country Club.
He has also worked at Ocean Shores Golf Course, and still lives in Ocean Shores with his wife Holly and his two young children, Ella and Kai.
Johnson will now face off with the big boys at Sahalee later this month.
He’s already dueled with Fred Couples, though both of them were in high school and “neither of us played all that great.”
Johnson and his family plan to “take full advantage of the atmosphere” the USGA provides for the major, staying at the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue.
He will have his nephew, 25-year-old five handicapper Justin Bentz as caddie, and expects a fair amount of relatives to cheer him on during his rounds.
“It’ll be interesting to see who shows up,” Johnson said.
“I’ll hear them but I won’t recognize them on Thursday.
“I’ve already said ‘You guys handle it, I need to work on my game.’ “
With towering cedars present on every hole and U.S. Open quality rough, Johnson will need to keep it straight and keep his putter going to perform well.
“I’ve been doing a lot of positive thinking, get out there and shoot a couple of rounds in the 60s and play on the weekend.
“My wife’s different, she’s telling me to play to win.”
Johnson will work in his new clubs with a PGA Sectional Tournament at Indian Canyon in Spokane before the big event.
He’ll have a writer cheering him on (quietly and not in the media center) as I will be in attendance for the second round of the tournament.
Good luck Jerry!
Junior golf clinic
Port Townsend Golf Club owner and golf pro Mike Early and assistant pro Gabriel Tonan will hold a junior golf clinic from 9 a.m. to noon today and Thursday.
Many past camp participants have gone on to play for the Port Townsend High School team, which has been district champions seven of the last eight years.
Tee off, help tutors
The Port Angeles Education Foundation, Kiwanis Club of Port Angeles and the Kiwanis Foundation of Port Angeles will present the Tee Off For Kids! Golf Tournament on Saturday at Peninsula Golf Club in Port Angeles.
The event raises funds to support the tutoring and mentoring efforts of programs like North Olympic AmeriCorps in the Port Angeles School District.
Funds will supply equipment, supplies and enhancement opportunities for the tutoring and mentoring program.
The four-person scramble event will tee off at 10:30 a.m.
Entry fees are $240 per team with lunch included.
Prizes will be awarded to winning teams and winners of the closest-to-the-pin and longest drive competitions.
There also will be an opportunity to bid in a silent auction on holes throughout the course.
Carts aren’t included, so if you would like a cart, phone the pro shop at 360-457-6501.
Interested sponsors can get in touch with tournament chair Andrew Fitch at [email protected] schools.org or by phone at 541-350-6083.
Rally for the Cure
The Port Ludlow lady golfers will host their 11th annual Rally for the Cure Golf Tournament on Thursday.
The nine-hole tourney supports the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing the breast cancer awareness message to women.
The event begins with a 9 a.m. shotgun start.
It includes some unique fundraising opportunities where participants are encouraged to buy their way into the winner’s circle through purchase of mulligans and drives.
This is a tournament with an important message but a fun focus and has strong support from the local businesses through sponsorship of holes and donations.
The Port Ludlow Men’s Club also provides assistance in many ways from hefting bags to measuring KPs.
There will be a luncheon at the Port Ludlow Bay Club following play where attendees can buy raffle tickets for several theme baskets and win door prizes.
Proceeds go to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Entry fees are $45 for members and $65 for nonmembers.
That includes green fees, cart, a pink rally visor, prizes, lunch and a one-year subscription to a selection of magazines.
The tournament is limited to 80 participants, so sign up now at the Port Ludlow clubhouse or call Carol Katuzny at 360-437-1157.
Realtor golf event
The Port Ludlow Golf Club is holding an 18-hole, four-person scramble golf tournament for licensed real estate agents on Monday, July 19.
The $40 per person entry fee, due by Wednesday, July 14, includes golf, cart, box lunch and range balls.
For more information, phone 360-437-0272.
SkyRidge Golf Course in Sequim will host the fifth annual Lavender Festival Golf Tournament on Saturday, July 17.
Tournament proceeds help support Disabled Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The two-person scramble format has a 9 a.m. shotgun start.
The tourney is $45 per player with a $15 per-seat cart fee.
Participants with a 2010 Lavender Festival button will receive $2 off their cart seat charge.
Lunch and prizes come with the tournament fee.
For more information, phone 360-683-3673.
________Michael Carman is the golf columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at 360-417-3527 or at [email protected]