Allen Terrell certainly was aware of Dustin Johnson. Anyone well-versed in golf in South Carolina – such as Terrell, then the men’s golf coach at Coastal Carolina -- had heard of the athletic teenager with the big swing, even if Johnson didn’t have the national reputation of other junior golfers his age.
But Terrell wasn’t sure how much time, if any, he should spend recruiting Johnson, who was taking a gap year after graduating from high school. To be honest, Terrell wasn’t sure Johnson even wanted to play in college.
Then he got a call … from Carol Jones. Are you interested in recruiting my grandson?
“That's how we, we hooked up -- through his grandma,” Terrell says with a bit of a chuckle. “And we've put up with each other ever since.”
Their relationship has evolved. Terrell now doubles as his swing coach and the vice president of the Dustin Johnson Foundation, which is based in Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina, at TPC Myrtle Beach.
Johnson, of course, has gone on to win 20 times on the PGA TOUR, including the 2016 U.S. Open. Terrell couldn’t be happier to see what his long-time friend has accomplished.
“For a coach watching a kid you know to have a family, be a great father, be successful at what they love to do, you couldn't really ask for anything more,” he says.
Terrell took time this week to talk about the Foundation and its goals, as well as what he expects to see from Johnson this week at the RBC Heritage. (The Q&A has been edited for length.)Dustin Johnson with his swing coach Allen Terrell. (Courtesy of the Dustin Johnson Foundation)
PGATOUR.COM: So how did the Foundation come to be?
ALLEN TERRELL: I originally started a foundation when I was coaching to help some fundraising for the golf teams, and then when he turned pro, obviously he wanted to give back to South Carolina golf. He wanted to give back to junior golf, you know, being a Ryder Cup member and Presidents Cup team member. There's always an opportunity to give to a foundation, but for him to give back to his foundation personally, and then for us to go out and raise money, it was both of our idea. Originally, we were going to do a big junior tournament and we were going to kind of run it through the Foundation, but then it grew to where we started providing kids who couldn't afford lessons, and in golf instruction, kids who can't afford clubs, we provide golf clubs. That's probably the main objective of the foundation currently.
PGATOUR.COM: How many kids do you think have been impacted by the Foundation?
TERRELL: Definitely over a hundred. That's pretty conservative actually in 12 years because we've given golf equipment to First Tee programs. We have a grant process that they can go through to apply. We give what is called SNAG golf equipment. We've given over $50,000 worth of equipment away to different organizations and we probably spend annually just to golf scholarship -- lesson scholarships is probably the better word -- and golf equipment we've spent close to $100,000.
What we do is we have weekly junior programs. We have a reduced rate for that if needed. I mean, not everyone needs reduced rate, so we have it there just if needed to help families out. We just don't want money to be a hindrance for families to keep their kids from getting into golf. So that's been the biggest thing. And then as they grow, because we start around 5 years old and as they continue to grow, we keep them in equipment that fits for them, so their parents don't have to worry about that expense. We'll handle that usually up till when they're about 14 years old. ... We keep measuring them every few months and making sure their equipment is on par for their growth, so the game doesn't get hard because all of a sudden now their equipment doesn't match.
PGATOUR.COM: Why do you think supporting junior golf is so important to Dustin?
TERRELL: Well, I think he loves kids, first and foremost. He's just a big kid himself, I guess. And you know, I think that he does love helping people. I mean, we could name a thousand things he would love to do, but being that he's from South Carolina, he wants to give back to South Carolina golf and help grow the game in South Carolina. And specifically, he lived in Myrtle Beach for about seven years and there's not a lot of junior golfers that actually play in this area as much as golf courses we have. When you see big junior golf programs, you usually see an area where there's a lot of private golf clubs because they have course access and there’s usually junior golf programs at the club. But we're more public here and it's more about resort golf than anything. So, you usually don't see huge junior golf programs in areas like that. And we're at the beach and the excuse always is that the kids have a lot of other options besides golf, which I've never really believed. So, we're just trying to change that. When we started you could count on your hand how many kids went on to play college golf, where we've had 12 go on to play college golf in the last six years.
Definitely just changing a few things -- changing the way junior golfers looked at how you should train for golf. It's not just you go take a lesson when you're hitting it poorly. There is programming involved to develop your game. And then from the very young level, it's just getting them to the golf course. They've never seen a golf course in their life. And we have the program that gets them ready to go out in the golf course where they have to shoot a certain score from certain yardages and we move them back as they progress.Dustin Johnson (middle) with junior golfer Caleb Surratt (left). (Courtesy of the Dustin Johnson Foundation)
PGATOUR.COM: Do you see a different side of Dustin when he gets a chance to work with the kids?
TERRELL: A different side? I see him around his boys all the time, so I see him the way other people probably never see him. So not really. I'm used to seeing how passionate he is about younger kids and then he'll be up here and we'll have a Junior Academy going and he'll just jump right in unsolicited and start talking to the kids and start helping them, whether it's swing or putting. He's like that with everyone, though. I mean, he's always trying to help his brother. He's trying to always help people with their golf game. Sometimes that's not a good thing, but at least his passion’s there.
PGATOUR.COM: So how would you describe the kids when they get around him?
TERRELL: Well, again, every kid has got such a unique personality. Some are just super brave and don't care and will say anything to him and then you know, some are pretty shy and pretty star-struck, I would say.
PGATOUR.COM: Are you expecting big things out of him this week at Hilton Head?
TERRELL: I always expect big things out of him. But last ... week wasn't a great week. But he’s just getting going. Dustin's a kind of guy, he's plays off momentum. ... He played decent (at Harbour Town) his first year back and then last year he was leading and played pretty poorly the last round. So, he's definitely figured the golf course out. Obviously, it's going to be a little different being that it's more wet right now and it's two months later. So, they might have some more Bermuda, rough that they're not used to seeing on that course. And I don't really know how their greens are really different right now, but I'm sure there'll be a little different since it's Bermuda not rye grass. But that's what he grew up playing. So, I assume he's going to have a high level of comfort there.
Dustin Johnson on the expected caliber of play at Harbour Town