Freshman Feature: Davis Johnson
Most people would be inclined to believe it's only a positive to grow up in a warmer climate for golf, but it's actually a double-edged sword. On one hand, aspiring players can practice their craft year-round but on the other, the competition is much steeper. To stand out amongst the best in these competitive regions of golf takes a strong work ethic and commitment to excellence that very few golfers possess. One of the few that do is Utah true freshman, Davis Johnson.
Johnson grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz., where his father, Chris Johnson, managed a local golf course.
"I would go and visit him at work a lot growing up," said Davis. "My dad loves golf so when I would come up and hang out with him, we would hit balls. Over time I started to fall in love with the sport and wanted to take it up on my own."
Johnson picked up his first golf club when he was four years old but that was far from the only thing he picked up from the clubhouse.
"One day when I was first starting, I decided to go into the locker room and take out all the little mints," said Johnson with a laugh.
Johnson and his game would mature quickly as he competed in his first tournament when he was just nine years old with his dad serving as his caddie. Chris may have been Davis's biggest influence on the course but the Scottsdale native credits his entire family for his development.
"My mom, Lisa, sister, Kendyll, and grandparents all played pivotal parts in helping me grow as a player and a human," said Johnson. "Seeing my sister's commitment to her grades pushes me to go out and practice harder. Then my mom's an extremely hard worker and when I was growing up, she would do anything to get me to my tournaments."
His immediate family taught him to have a strong work ethic, but Johnson credits his perseverance to his grandpa, Bo Rajokvski, who grew up in Macedonia when the country was under communist control.
"He was drafted into the army and didn't want to go," said Johnson. "He served jail time and once he got out he was very poor. He eventually made his way to the U.S., worked his way up and became one of the top architects in California. I always think about him when I struggle because of all he overcame and I strive to be like him every day."
Johnson continued to grind on the greens and took advantage of the warm Scottsdale weather to improve his game, especially since he was far from the only one trying to master the game of golf in the Grand Canyon State.
"It was definitely a perk to be able to grow up golfing year-round and it installed a good work ethic in me," said Johnson. "Other golfers were always out practicing so I knew if I wanted to be better than them, I needed to always be practicing."
He competed on the junior golf tour in middle school to sharpen his craft before enrolling in Scottsdale Prep. It was here that Johnson would begin to make a name for himself earning team MVP honors his freshman year and finished in sixth at the state tournament. He followed his first year up with a strong sophomore campaign where he repeated as MVP and improved his play at state to finish in second. Johnson credits his early success to his teammates, coaches, and long days on the course.
"I would try and practice every day until it got dark," said Johnson. "Whether it was spending a few hours on the range or a fun game with my friends, I knew I would get better just by spending time on the course."
Johnson was looking forward to his junior season when COVID-19 hit and changed everything. Fortunately for him, golf courses remained open and this led to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Scottsdale native. Johnson's swing coach Richard Lee, who played on the PGA tour, invited him to come golfing with other tour members such as Andrew Putnam, James Hahn, and Scott Langley.
"Getting to play with them was a great learning experience because it allowed me to see how close I am to them but also how far I am from them and what I can get better at. I realized there isn't a crazy difference between our games in terms of talent but they're much smarter than me."
This meeting of course would not have been possible without Lee who had an immense impact on Johnson's game.
"I feel like once I met him my game started to take off," said Johnson. "He taught me a lot just not only with my physical game but mentally how to handle myself like a tour pro each day in practice and tournaments."
Lee played his college golf at Washington where current Utah head golf coach, Garret Clegg was an assistant at the time. Lee and his former coach have stayed in touch and the former PGA pro introduced Coach Clegg to Johnson.
"Davis was a player that was making a lot of strides and improvement in Arizona," said Clegg. "He has several positives about his game, and we saw that he was rapidly improving and wanted to bring him up to the U."
Johnson also wanted to be a Ute and found the chance to play under Coach Clegg, join an up-and-coming team and experience a new environment too good to pass up. Even in one semester Johnson already feels like his game has made huge strides.
"When I first got here, I quickly realized that my game was only suited for Arizona, so we started to work on suiting it for the rest of the world," said Johnson. "My course management, ability to play under the rough, and commitment to staying sharp have also been huge growth points for me."
Johnson hopes that in his time at the U he will be able to help his school win a national championship and take his game to a level that will allow him to play on the PGA Tour. No matter what happens one can be sure Johnson will give it all he's got.