Mark David Johnson has officially established himself as a hometown hero.
The St. Simons native, and Glynn Academy alumnus, became the first player in the history of the Coastal Georgia men’s golf program to claim the NAIA individual title Friday at the Las Sendas Golf Club in Mesa, Ariz.
“It’s sweet to coach a player of his caliber,” Mariners head coach Mike Cook said in a statement. “He’ll go down as the best player in the NAIA this year, and for him to win in a playoff is something special.”
Johnson entered NAIA Men’s Golf National Championships ranked No. 2 in the country, fresh off being named the Sun Conference Player of the Year and the Coastal Georgia Men’s Student-Athlete of the Year, and he proved deserving of those accolades with his play on the par 71 Hilly Desert Course.
Coastal’s senior started the day four strokes out of the individual lead at 2-over for the championship after shooting 72 in Round 1, 74 in the second round, and 69 in Round 3. He closed with an even-par score to get into the playoff for the individual win after finishing the 72 regulation holes at 2-over 286.
“My mind set was just go out and take it as low as I could,” Johnson said. “I did that on the front. On the back, when people started coming out and watching, I figured I was shooting something close to the lead and figured I must be pretty close with about four or five holes to go. I had no idea where I was.”
Johnson claimed the crown on the first hole of a sudden death playoff against two other players, but for a moment, it looked as if a disastrous set of events on the 18th hole may cost him.
He teed off on the final hole of regulation holding on to a two-stroke lead over the next closest competitor. However his struggles on the back nine continued when No. 18 became the third hole he’d bogey over the final stretch.
With the door cracked open, Taylor University’s Alex Dutkowski and Logan Carter from British Columbia took advantage of their hot-hitting rounds to to force a playoff when both recorded birdies on 18.
Dutkowski carded a sizzling 64 in the final round which was the low score by any player in the field this week, to put himself in position himself in a tie atop the leaderboard, while Carter fired a 66 in the round to earn his spot.
The playoff started at the 18th hole, where Johnson just settled for a bogey moments earlier after hitting his tee shot on the 567-yard, par-5 hole into the trees, but he rebounded quickly on a hole that he’d fared well on all week.
Johnson made birdie at the last in each of the tournament’s first three rounds, and his fourth came during the playoff to lift him to the biggest win of his collegiate career in his last official event with the Mariners.
“I was kicking myself a little bit,” Johnson said when asked about making bogey on 18 to finish his round when a par would have won him the title. “I knew I wasn’t going to bogey that hole two times in a row. I felt confident going into the playoff.”
He was left of the green in two shots and chipped within four feet before making his birdie putt for the win as Dutkowski and Carter both made bogeys on the hole after suffering penalties for a lost ball and a shot in the water hazard.
The victory was the fourth for Johnson this season and the sixth of his career at Coastal Georgia, which ties him for the most in program history despite only playing two seasons with the Mariners after transferring from Western Carolina.
Johnson, along with teammate Eli Scott, were among the 10 players in the country to be named to the Ping First-Team All-America team by the Golf Coaches Association of America at the post-tournament awards ceremony, where Johnson was also named to the all-tournament team before receiving the NAIA Arnold Palmer Individual Champion Award.
When asked if he’d digested his accomplishments yet, Johnson simply replied: “Maybe a little bit, but, it feels good.”