Michael Johnson ready for another chance on Korn Ferry Tour
October 21, 2021
By Nick Parker, PGATOUR.COM
- October 21, 2021
- (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Michael Johnson is back. He’s got his Korn Ferry Tour membership back and feels like he’s got his game back too. The 28-year-old previously advanced through second stage in 2016, and he did it again last week with a solo-third finish at the Brooksville, Florida site at Southern Hills Plantation.
After an up-and-down five-year journey in between, the 28-year-old Auburn grad admits it’s a different feeling advancing to final stage this go around.
“In 2016, I was just young and didn’t really know what I was playing for, and I think that’s why a lot of young guys get through Q-School,” Johnson said. “Being naïve is not a bad way to be in golf, and obviously, the main difference is I’ve had to really work to get my game back and it was nice to have it when it counted.”
Three years into his professional journey, Johnson lost his game in 2019. He finished 125th on the Korn Ferry Tour Points Standings, lost his card and failed to advance at second stage.
He switched coaches to Scott Hamilton, throwing all his trust in his new coach. Slowly but surely, they have rebuilt back his swing more toward how it used to feel, and he’s felt his game trending. Although he didn’t have status on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020-2021 to showcase it, he feels like the last year and half is the most consistent golf he’s played as a professional as he’s worked to get back to the familiar feels of the past.
“Scott would probably tell you I was just way ahead of the ball at impact and my backswing was kind of long and slow, and I’ve always been this short and tight guy and never really got the club to parallel,” Johnson said. “It’s more like my swing in 2016, and he wanted me to get back to those familiar feelings. It’s worked out for sure.”
That 2016 swing led Johnson, then a hot shot graduating All-American from Auburn University, to a dream start in his professional debut. Playing at home in Auburn in front of his family and friends on a sponsor’s exemption, Johnson ripped off rounds of 67-65-70-65—267 (-17) to finish solo third and one shot out of a playoff in his PGA TOUR debut at the Barbasol Championship.
“It couldn’t have been a better setup for me,” Johnson recalled. “I still had my apartment down there, and I drove my own car to the course. Everything was a comfortable feeling. I knew everything about the golf course. It really couldn’t have been any better for me, and I just happened to play really well. It was just one of those weeks. I think a lot of golfers have those weeks where you can kind of feel it coming. It was pretty special.”
Looking back on it now, he almost thinks it was too much too soon. It didn’t give him a false sense of confidence but more of a false sense of the ease of professional golf.
“I’ve never had a false sense of confidence. That’s not really my personality, but I would say it gave me a false sense of work ethic. Like I don’t have to work too hard. All I gotta do is just play good,” Johnson said with a laugh. “But I definitely worked harder, more efficient than I did when I first turned pro. So that would be probably the biggest difference – work ethic, trying to eat a little better and not drink during a tournament week and just small stuff like that.”
Johnson did put together back-to-back solid years in 2017 and 2018 on the Korn Ferry Tour, advancing to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals and keeping his card with top-75 finishes on the Points Standings. He had a runner-up in 2017 and three top-10s in 2018 and proved he could contend when he had his best stuff. But ultimately, he didn’t make enough cuts to take the next step, missing 14 of 24 in 2017 and 18 of 27 in 2018.
“My cut record is not great. I just didn’t make enough cuts,” Johnson said. “A lot of times you have a good week where you make the cut on the number, and you shoot 10-under on the weekend, and you finish top-20 or top-15 to get you a nice chunk of points. So, I just need to give myself more opportunities by making a few more cuts and also take advantage of the good weeks too.”
Johnson enters final stage with the same approach he’s had in each of the first two stages – treat it as a four-day cut and set a number that he thinks would comfortably keep him inside the cut line and try to get there in three rounds. If he does that, he thinks he’ll finish where he needs to and secure guaranteed starts for 2022.
He would be the first to admit that he thought he’d be on the PGA TOUR or at least the Korn Ferry Tour at this point in his career, but not everyone can be Viktor Hovland or Collin Morikawa, who transitions seamlessly from a college All-American to the upper echelon of the PGA TOUR immediately. No two journeys in this game are the same, and he’s looking at the last two years as a “minor setback in the grand scheme of things” in what he hopes will be a lengthy 20-plus year career from here.
“It’s kind of like if you look at Jonathan Byrd, people look at him and are like I can’t believe he’s playing at Q-School at 43. Well, JByrd is playing great golf and he feels like if he gets on the Korn Ferry, he’s definitely going to get his TOUR card back. So, it’s not that I’m in the same boat, but it’s a similar feeling where I’m finally playing good, and I feel like I belong and have a good chance to get out there.”