Jags to play in Junior Am

Published 5:09 pm Thursday, July 16, 2009

They’ve both been there before, but this year is different. Spain Park golfers Michael Johnson and Hannah Collier will travel to Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. this weekend for the United States Golf Association Junior Amateur, July 20-25.

Collier last attended the event as a competitor in 2006, while Johnson was following his older brother Bradley’s second-place run the previous year. Both players sat on the cart path last year, watching the 2008 boys’ championship at Shoal Creek.

Collier returns to the Junior Am after skating past qualifying with a 77 and taking an unexpected third player from her qualifying tournament at Shoal Creek in June.

“It’s very exciting. I’m really excited about the tournament and everything,” Collier said. “I didn’t do too well then (2006). I’m hoping this year I can play well.”

Johnson qualified for the championship by shooting a 140 to best the 36-hole qualifier at the Grand Bear Golf Club in Sacuier, Miss., June 30.

“Last year I missed it by one stroke, and I wasn’t as good as a player as this year. I knew that if I could go out and play I’d make it,” Johnson said.

Johnson admits going to the tournament without his older brother Bradley by his side will be a bittersweet feeling. Bradley was killed in a car accident the spring after his second-place run in the Junior Am. But the lessons learned from watching Bradley’s run to the final is something Michael plans to rely on next week through stroke play and match play.

“I learned watching Bradley, once you get to match play, it doesn’t matter who you are. He played really good and one round he played terrible, he didn’t play as bad as the other kid,” Johnson said.

The tournament will be a family reunion of sorts for the Johnson family who grew close to a large number of USGA staff members and volunteers in 2005 and even more so after Bradley’s death in 2006.

“I’ve been crying all afternoon just thinking back and that now it’s Michael’s turn and how proud we are of him,” Johnson’s mother Sharri said after he qualified at Grand Bear.

Johnson will take the same caddie Bradley used in 2005, hoping that a calming word here or tip there may help him as it did his brother four summers ago.

Johnson said his game has been more consistent this year than in years past and hopes that will help him see his way into match play July 22. Collier, the 2009 Class 6A girls state champion, also believes her game is in a good place as she enters the tournament.