STILLWATER — A year ago, also at Karsten Creek, then-Norman North freshman Thomas Johnson was in the high 70s each day at the Class 6A state golf tournament.
Tuesday, he came from 4-over par after seven holes to card a 1-under 71 and earn his way into a three-way playoff for state medalist honors.
A three-putt par on No. 18, the first playoff hole, ended his hopes of becoming North’s first state golf champion since Ryan Rainer a dozen years ago. Still, it was a notice-serving performance.
At the rate of improvement Johnson’s riding, he could well be the favorite when the 2014 state tourney returns to the shrine of Oklahoma State golf.
“I feel good, I played well,” Johnson said, offering composure beyond his years moments after he exited the playoff. “I missed one putt. It just happened to be the one that lost it.”
Among individuals, Edmond Santa Fe’s Max McGreevey, who’ll begin playing his college golf at Oklahoma in a few months, repeated as state medalist, claiming the playoff after rounds of 71, 70 and 73 for a 2-under 214 total. He bested Edmond North’s Nick Heinen, an OSU commit, who carded rounds of 74, 68 and 72. Johnson joined them both with rounds of 68, 75 and 71.
Edmond North ran away with the team crown, posting scores of 309, 282 and 293 for a 54-hole 20-over par total 884. The Huskies were 27 strokes in front of Jenks (911) and 28 in front of Santa Fe (912).
Edmond Memorial was fourth at 926, well in front of fifth-place Union (953) and sixth-place Norman North (959).
Southmoore tied for 10th at 1,021. Moore was 12th at 1,023.
Johnson’s final round was a study in focus, determination and the willingness and confidence to play to win.
“He hates to lose,” North coach Dennis Etter said.
After making double bogey on the par 3 seventh hole to move to 4-over for the day and 3-over for the tournament, rather than settle back, Johnson chose to rev it up.
“I just wanted to get birdies and get it back. I just wanted to hit it closer, so I wouldn’t have such long putts,” he said. “Going into the eighth hole, I hadn’t had a putt shorter than 15 feet.
“I needed birdies.”
He made an 18-footer for birdie on the ninth, missed a seven-footer for birdie on the 10th, made an 8-footer for birdie on the 12th, a two-footer for birdie on the 13th and two-putted for birdie on the par 5 14th. After pars at Nos. 15 and 16, he played a couple of holes he may remember the next time he has to finish strong.
On the 17th, a 428-yard par 4 playing into the wind, Johnson drove left into high-rough jail. He took his medicine and pitched out before approaching to 25-feet beyond and well above the pin. He rolled in that downhill put for par before going driver, 3-wood on the 551-yard par 5 18th and rolling his second shot right past the pin. He two-putted from 20 feet for his 71, carding his fifth birdie in the space of 10 holes.
Waiting for the rest of the field to finish, not clear if he was done for the day or not, Johnson reflected on his performance.
“It would be big (to win), just because I’m a sophomore,” he said, “but I’m still looking forward to finishing in the top five.”
It turned out much better than that. Also, time remains on Johnson’s side.
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