Mark David Johnson is looking forward to the spring season with the College of Coastal Georgia men’s golf team.
The standout senior hopes to continue his strong play from the fall and help the Mariners challenge for the Sun Conference championship, and perhaps, also another NAIA national championship.
“I hope I can,” the Coastal Georgia All-American said when asked if he can continue the stellar play he showcased in the fall season. “I don’t feel great about golf game in the last month or so, but hopefully when the season kicks up it’ll come together and I can go compete with whatever I have.”
What Johnson had in the fall was pretty special. He was certainly dialed in during the second-ranked Mariners’ tournaments as he won three times individually in four events and helped the Mariners claim team titles in three tournaments as well.
In the only event Johnson did not win, he finished fourth — just three shots back of the tournament winner at Coastal Georgia’s final fall event in mid-October.
Johnson will go into the spring season, which starts next month for the Mariners with their annual home spring invitational, as the No. 1 ranked golfer in the NAIA based on the Golf Stat rankings.
“I think his worse score in the fall was a 72,” said Coastal Georgia head golf coach Mike Cook, who is also a teaching instructor at the renowned Sea Island Golf Club. “He played exceptionally well, didn’t make many mistakes. I’m excited to see him play this spring. He just needs to keep doing what he’s been doing.”
Johnson has been on holiday break from school along with the rest of his teammates who will be back in town for classes and practices starting Monday.
But, Johnson didn’t quit playing golf over the Christmas break. He spent December preparing for the Patriot All-America Invitational tournament held between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The prestigious event, which featured an 84-player field comprised mostly of all-americans throughout the collegiate ranks, was played Dec. 27-31 at the Wigwam Golf Club in Litchfield Park, Ariz.
Johnson finished tied for 39th in the 54-hole event. He had scores of 71, 73 and 75 to finish at 9-over-par 219.
The tournament champion was Isaiah Jackson from the University of Memphis. He finished at 5-under 205 and won by three strokes.
Johnson, who was accompanied by his parents on the trip out west, said he didn’t have his best stuff during the event.
“I didn’t hit it my best and didn’t putt it great either,” Johnson said. “The greens were really firm, and I didn’t give myself enough good chances (for birdie) and I couldn’t make the ones I had.”
Still, he felt it was an enjoyable experience.
Each player in the field plays in memory of a fallen or severely injured solider and honors their chosen solider by carrying his or her name on their golf bag.
At the conclusion of the tournament, the golf bags are shipped to players’ schools and auctioned with all proceeds benefitting the Folds of Honor Foundation, which provides post-secondary educational scholarships for children and spouses of military service men and women killed or disabled while in active service.
Johnson played in honor or Cpl. John Stalvey, a local Marine who was killed in the line of duty while deployed in Iraq in October 2003.
While at the tournament, the players were taken on a tour of the nearby Luke Air Force Base.
The tournament’s opening ceremony featured an Air Force F-35 flyover and also a United States Air Force Wings of Blue parachute descent. Cindy McCain, widow of U.S. senator John McCain, was the featured speaker at the tournament kick-off event.
“The patriotic aspect made it different than a regular tournament,” Johnson said. “It was a good experience, a fun tournament to play in.”
Prior to returning to the course with the Mariners, Johnson will play in the Jones Cup Invitational which is set for Feb. 1-3 at the Ocean Forest Golf Club on Sea Island, a course the St. Simons Island native and former Glynn Academy golfer has played several times already.
Held since 2011, the Jones Cup features top amateur players from around the country and world. Participants have to be invited to compete in the event by the tournament committee.
Past competitors include well-known stars today such as Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson. Former champions include last year’s Masters champion Patrick Reed and 2017 PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas.
“I’m really excited about the Jones Cup,” Johnson said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to play in. I’m happy to get in.”
As far as the Coastal Georgia team goes, Johnson likes the team’s makeup and its chances to win more hardware in the upcoming spring season.
“We have six guys on this team who can really play,” he said. “We can only bring five each tournament, but I think we have the best five in the country regardless of who plays.
“We’ve had a pretty long break from team golf. I know I have missed it a little bit and I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”