St. Louis — Joey Johnson, from Ozark, MO in the Springfield area, won his 2nd consecutive Missouri Amateur championship with a 6 & 4 victory in the 36 hole final over Joseph Atkisson, also of Springfield, at the Norwood Hills CC West Course on Sunday, June 29th. Atkisson will be a senior this fall at UMSL but used up his college eligibility with the 2014 golf season.
Johnson, entering his junior year at Missouri State University this fall, said “The week was just great from beginning to end. My brother Adam and I got here Sunday and played a practice round. I liked the course immediately. A lot of holes fit my eye, so I had a good feel about the place from beginning to end. It’s too bad Adam missed qualifying but it was nice to have him there as my caddy in match play. He helps me a lot reading the putts—and there were a lot of difficult reads out there this week.”
This is only the eighth time in the 107 years of the Missouri Amateur that a player has won back-to-back titles. And since Tom Watson accomplished the feat twice, in 1967-8 and 1970-71, Johnson is only the seventh player to do so. Johnson also joins a small number of champions who won the qualifying medal (#1 seed) and went on to win the title via match play. Mark McBride is the last player before Joey to be low qualifier and champion when he won in 2001 at Sunset CC.
Johnson put on quite a performance Sunday in leaving little doubt that he was the best player in the field this past week. He started out Sunday morning birdie-eagle-par-birdie on the first four holes and immediately put Atkisson on notice that par golf wasn’t going to be the order of the day. Despite a 3-putt bogey at the fifth, Joey went on to birdie seven thru nine for a blistering six under par 30 on Norwood’s tough front nine. He held a 6 up lead through nine holes. Atkisson, whose game is to make lots of pars and play steady golf said, “I knew after he made that birdie putt on seven that I had to start shooting at pins because it didn’t look like Joey was going to slow down. You can’t control what your opponent is doing, and sometimes, like today, you just tip your cap and say ‘well done.”’
Johnson finished the morning 18 with a five under 66 and a seemingly insurmountable seven up lead. Both started well in the afternoon session with matching birdies at the 19th and 20th. Atkisson birdied the 22nd to cut the lead to six and perhaps begin a rally that would cut into Johnson’s lead. However, Joey answered with birdies at the 23rd and 24th to stretch his lead to eight with 12 to play. Atkisson, to his credit, never quit as he won the 26th, 29th, and 31st to stave off elimination before losing the 32nd and the match, 6 & 4.
No player has won three straight titles in the 100+ year history of the Missouri Amateur. Johnson will come to next year’s event at Twin Oaks in Springfield with that chance. He certainly will be the prohibitive favorite.
The Amateur began last Tuesday with a field of 146 playing two stroke play rounds to get to a low 64 for the match play portion. There was a 12 for 1 playoff at 150, eight over par, for the 64th spot and the right to play #1 seed Johnson in the first round.
Missouri Golf Association Executive Director Scott Hovis was pleased with the turnout at the six regional qualifiers held in early June. “We had well over 300 try to qualify at our various sites. That’s a good turnout and tells me that our state’s top amateurs of all ages continue to want to play in this event. It’s neat that the age range of those who made the Norwood field was from 15 all the way up to age 64”, he said.
Hovis also commented on the venue, Norwood Hills CC. “This is our fourth time at Norwood Hills, West and it again proved to be a great test for the players. Superintendent Mike Null is one of the best in the state and we worked well together in preparing the course and in setting it up each day. He had the greens running at almost 12, which is plenty fast, and the rough was not cut all week. I got a lot of compliments from the players saying that this was a tough but fair test. That’s all you can strive for in identifying a champion. We had a large field to get around during qualifying and thus had pretty ‘vanilla’ hole locations during those two rounds. Beginning with the first round of match play we had some tougher hole locations. Especially in the double rounds Friday and Saturday, par was a good score as we had some difficult hole locations and windy days. We didn’t have the setup as tough today (Sunday) and you saw that for a time Joey looked like he could break the course record of 63. He played amazing golf, particularly that 66 in the morning. He is a nice kid and a very worthy champion.”
On a sad and ironic note, Bill Wells, MGA Executive Director from 1989-2005, passed away early Sunday morning at a Jefferson City hospice. Wells was the overseer of the greatest tournament expansion in MGA history and left the MGA in good hands when he passed the baton to Scott Hovis.
— Jim Vastyan
Publisher, The Missouri Golf Post