Brandon Johnson walked off the 18th green in the Monterey Bay League Finals and knew he had posted a low number. A couple of minutes later, it was official: the recent Christopher High graduate had shot an excellent round—perhaps the round of his life—posting a 4-over par 75 at Laguna Seca Golf Ranch to finish in a tie for third place and clinch a berth to a Central Coast Sectional Regional.
Once Johnson told his coaches, a celebration ensued, and it is a memory that will be seared in Johnson’s mind for years—more like decades—from now.
“I told my coaches the score and they went nuts,” said Johnson, who will attend San Francisco State University in the fall. “There were hugs, high-fives and it was an amazing feeling. I texted my parents, girlfriend and friends, and it was one of those incredible moments I’ll be able to cherish forever.”
Johnson’s round that day was no fluke. The next week in the CCS Regional—also at Laguna Seca—Johnson shot a 3-over par 74 to become the first golfer in Christopher High history to qualify for the CCS Finals on May 15. Even though Johnson didn’t play as well as he had in the previous two weeks, he still managed a solid round shooting a 7-over par 77.
In the back of his mind, Johnson knew he could put together a three-week stretch like this, but for it to happen at the most important time of his high school career—in the postseason—left him utterly amazed at how it all unfolded.
Prior to this run, Johnson had never made the CCS Tournament; however, he had steadily improved each season and was showing signs of a breakthrough. That moment came in the MBL Finals at a course that Johnson wasn’t too fond of in the past.
“The course was pretty long for me in my freshman and sophomore years,” he said. “But once you know what you’re doing, it’s not very long. I could attack the greens with a wedge going in, which is the strong part of my game. If I have a wedge in my hand, I feel confident getting up and down (for pars and birdies).”
Johnson also feels confident with a putter, and for the most part he had a good read on the Laguna Seca greens. One of the memorable holes Johnson played came in the CCS Regional on the par-4 14th. Johnson got into trouble off the tee, hitting a wayward shot. He eventually was left with a 30-footer for his fourth shot, and seemingly in line for a bogey.
“I was 14 holes in and all I was thinking was, ‘Let’s put this nice and close and walk away with a bogey,’” he said. “But I read the break perfect, and the ball fell in the center of the cup. I’ll be honest—I had a little bit Tiger Woods fist pump in me.”
In the MBL Finals, Johnson had a watershed moment on the par-4 9th hole, which was the last hole for Johnson since he started on the back nine.
“It’s one of the toughest holes on the course,” he said.
Johnson hit a nice drive off the tee, but his second shot left him with plenty of work to do.
“I thought, ‘This might be the final hole of my high school career. Let’s make this a good one,’” he said.
And that’s exactly what Johnson did, putting the ball on the green to set up a par putt conversion.
“At that point, I had no idea what my score was or what I had done,” he said.
Johnson wasn’t joking. During an 18-hole round, Johnson only peeks at his scorecard once to see his cumulative score—after his second shot on the final hole of his round.
“I’ll take a little peek,” said Johnson, who employs a strong mental approach to the game. “I like to take it hole by hole, shot by shot, and try to stay in the moment. I have that rule to take a look after that second shot, but all in all I try not to think about what my score is. If I’m having a bad day, looking at the score might screw me up even more. And if I’m having a good day, I might think in the back of my mind, ‘Hey, don’t screw this up.’”
Johnson certainly didn’t screw it up; in fact, he had shot an all-time career best at Laguna Seca. The course that once gave him fits was suddenly one of his favorites.
“I walk off the green and into the clubhouse, peeking at my card,” he said. “I add up the score and it’s a 75, and my mind is blown. I was one of the first few groups in the clubhouse, and this being my fourth league finals, I knew what I needed. I kept on seeing the scores come in and told myself that 75 was a great score, but if I didn’t make it, I would go off with a bang because that was my career best.”
Johnson started playing golf the summer before his seventh grade year. His uncle, Bill Welsh, made Johnson’s first couple years of golf an enjoyable experience.
“I remember getting a set of junior clubs from Costco and being so excited to go out there,” Johnson said. “Even though I could barely hit the ball, my uncle was out there encouraging me. We did that for a couple of summers before my high school coaches took over.“
From there, Johnson spent countless hours on the practice range, honing his shots and shoring up his deficiencies. Entering his senior season, Johnson was primed for a breakthrough.
“Last summer I worked out a lot of small things in my game, and I liked where my game was at,” he said. “I wasn’t too far off where I wanted my game to be, just a few strokes here and there. The small things were coming together. That is when I really took that next step because a few little things were holding me back, and I was able to work through them.”
When Johnson entered Christopher High, he could never imagine he would do something no previous golfer in school history had done.
“I wasn’t looking to get recognized,” he said. “I just wanted to go out and play well, and it’s a great feeling to go as far as I did.”