Successful defense: Northern Michigan University-bound Paxton Johnson runs away for title at Upper Peninsula Ladies Golf Association championship
The recent Escanaba High School graduate added to her now lengthy list of accomplishments with a 5-and-4 victory over Gladstone’s Lori Shea in the championship match Tuesday to capture her second straight Upper Peninsula Ladies Golf Association at the Escanaba Country Club.
Johnson, who will be attending and playing golf at Northern Michigan University this fall, sealed the victory on the 14th hole when she parred to a bogey for Shea.
“It feels awesome, especially to do it on my home course,” said Johnson, the only former champion in this year’s event. “To do it in front of a lot people that you know is really nice.”
Johnson began the match strongly, winning three of the first five holes while halving the other two for a 3-up lead. After the pair tied on hole 6, Shea took two of the next three holes to cut her deficit to 1-up before Johnson won four of the final five.
“I played a lot more solid today than I did (Monday in the quarterfinals),” Johnson said. “I worked on it (Monday) night and I think I fixed what I was doing wrong. I was a lot more solid.”
When asked for specifics, she cited her short game.
“Definitely my approach shots to the greens,” she said. “I hit a lot more greens than I have the past two whole years.”
On the flip side, Shea felt she wasn’t on top of her game.
“I wasn’t in the zone, basically,” she said. “I couldn’t get there, and once I finally got there on No. 9, I thought ‘OK, let’s get going here.’ Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get going to the green and she was already there.
“She capitalized on it obviously. She’s just a tough competitor.”
Johnson and Shea each reached the finals with quick work in the morning semifinals.
Johnson defeated Rapid River’s Mary Bergman 8-and-7 in just 11 holes and Shea advanced past Iron Mountain’s Jean Constantini 7-and-6 in 12.
Johnson said the semifinals gave her a lot of confidence.
“I played really solid during that round,” she said. “I had a lot of confidence going into the final round, and that really helped me.”
She also said playing against a couple locals made it extra fun.
“That was really cool,” she said. “Playing local people from around here was really fun.”
Shea’s earned her a unique chance to play for the championship.
“This is my first time being a finalist. I’ve been a semifinalist in the past, but this is my first time being a finalist,” she said. “The honor of that was well enough alone. I didn’t play good at all the first day, so I’m proud of myself for being able to get to the finalist round.”
Johnson, who’s also a two-time defending ECC club champ and four-time MHSAA U.P. Division 1 high school champion, was playing in her final home tournament.
“It’s kind of bittersweet because it’s over,” she said. “It was really nice playing here and winning just kind of made it extra (nice).”
ECC golf pro Jeff Rae felt the tournament — which was held at ECC for the first time since 2005 — went well.
“I think the tournament went great this weekend,” he said. “It was everything I thought and more. I thought the competitiveness was great.
“The weather worked out great — there were a couple scares in there but the weather was great, the course was great and the players were great. If somebody asked us to do it again next year, I would do it again. It was awesome.”
He also thought Johnson winning on her home course was quite special.
“For Paxton to come out and win it on her home course, that’s really exciting,” he said. “She’s a player that comes out and doesn’t just play golf — golf is her life. I can’t imagine what she’s feeling right now because she grew up on this course. It’s got to be one of the most exciting achievements she has thus far.
“She’s already won it, but she won it on her home course. The gallery was huge. I think at one point I counted around 50 carts. There were probably around 100 people out there following her, so that was exciting.”
The tournament moves to Pine Grove Country Club in Iron Mountain next summer.
These are other flight winners — championship consolation, Nancy Osier of Wakefield; president’s flight, Barb Scott of Escanaba; first flight, Heidi Olson of Niagara, Wisconsin; second, Amy Johnson of Iron River; third, Deb Lordson of Gladstone.