PGA TOUR winner Johnson passes away at age 90
September 21, 2015
By Laury Livsey, PGATOUR.COM
- September 21, 2015
- Howie Johnson hits a tee shot during the 2005 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
Howie Johnson won only two PGA TOUR tournaments during his career, but one of his victories was memorable. At the 1958 Azalea Open, Johnson defeated Arnold Palmer in an 18-hole playoff for his first TOUR title.
Johnson, who played full time on the PGA TOUR between 1956 and 1973, died Sept. 13 in Palm Desert. He had just turned 90 five days earlier.
Johnson was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Sept. 8, 1925. He suffered from rheumatic fever during his elementary-school years, and didn’t start seriously playing golf until he was 18. He served in the United States Air Force, and following the end of World War II he enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where he played for Gopher head coach Les Bolstad, a former TOUR professional. Johnson stayed at the Minneapolis school for two years then began working in the insurance business in Texas, where he played in numerous amateur events. He also played in six PGA TOUR events as an amateur, a tie for 43rd in his hometown St. Paul Open in 1953 his top finish.
Johnson decided to turn pro in 1956, joining the TOUR that same year.
“I knew my age was against me when I accepted the dare to turn pro, but I was single then. Now I wish I had turned pro when I was 20,” Johnson told the Chicago Tribune in 1961.
In his first full season on TOUR as a professional, he made the cut in 10 tournaments, with top-20 finishes at the Fort Wayne Open (tied for 13th), the St. Paul Open (tied for 17th) and the Oklahoma City Open (tied for 20th).
While Johnson’s best season on TOUR came in 1970, when he finished 29th on the money list, he is best remembered for taking down Palmer in the playoff in Wilmington, North Carolina.
At the event at Cape Fear Country Club, Johnson shot a final-round 68 to come from three shots off the pace to tie Palmer and send the tournament to an 18-hole, Monday playoff. While both Johnson and Palmer played poorly in the playoff, Johnson’s 5-over 77 was one better than Palmer’s 78. Helping Johnson’s cause was a penalty Palmer called against himself on the 14th green when he said his ball moved after he had addressed the ball.
Johnson earned his second and final TOUR title the following year, at the Baton Rouge Open, beating Jay Hebert by a stroke after beginning the day four shots behind. Johnson won for a third consecutive year when he took home the 1960 Mexico Open title, defeating Billy Maxwell by two shots and three ahead of Ramon Sota and Roberto De Vicenzo in Mexico City.
Johnson also had two runner-up finishes, both of them coming in 1970—first at the Phoenix Open, when he tied with Gene Littler, a stroke behind winner Dale Douglass, and later in the year, at the Greater New Orleans Open. At Lakewood Country Club, Johnson, Bob Charles and Miller Barber all finished regulation tied at 10 under. Barber prevailed over Johnson and Charles in a one-hole, sudden-death playoff.
Johnson’s final full season on TOUR came in 1973, although he played occasional events after that. His final TOUR appearance was at the 1986 Western Open.
At age 55, he began his Champions Tour career, playing in the Tour’s inaugural event, the Atlantic City Senior International, where he tied for 21st. His career-best performance came in 1987 when he was in a seven-way tie for second at the Vintage Chrysler Invitational, with Charles winning.
Johnson is survived by his wife, Chevelle, his three sons, George, Howie and John, and two stepdchildren, Bruce Johnson and Rayleen Raganit. Funeral services are pending.