Originally created 09/09/06

Regions Cup event features teen on rise



Lance Johnson has little in common with most of the other players in this weekend's Regions Cup Matches, other than the fact they are all among the top amateur golfers in the area.

At age 17, Johnson is the youngest player among the 28 in the matches that begin today and conclude Sunday at Thomson's Belle Meade Country Club.

He and former Aquinas golfer Willie Williams, a freshman at Georgia Southern, are the only teenagers to make their respective teams.

Johnson, of North Augusta, is on the 14-player South Carolina team, and Williams is on the Georgia side. Each team consists of eight regular division players and six seniors.

Players qualified for the matches by earning points for top 20 finishes in the nine Regions Cup tournaments. Johnson tied for second place among the point-getters on the South Carolina team with 114 points, and he tied for sixth place overall. Williams was sixth on the Georgia team with 86 points and 10th overall.

Johnson had five top-10 finishes, including a tie for third in the Gordon Uhl/Golf Capital Invitational and a tie for fourth in the W.M. Gregory Classic.

"I'm really excited (to make the team); it shows that I've been playing pretty good," Johnson said.

Having new, talented players such as Johnson might help South Carolina reverse its recent fortunes in the matches.

The Palmetto state leads the series 10-7-1, but has lost four of the past five to Georgia.

Johnson practically came out of nowhere at the start of the season to make the team. A year ago, Johnson had only been playing golf seriously for two years and had a "seven or eight" handicap.

Since then, he played on the North Augusta High School golf team as a sophomore, shot a course-record 61 at Bartram Trail Golf Club and now has his handicap down to 0.1.

"I'm very surprised at how far I've come," Johnson said. "I've worked hard, hit a lot of balls, and the 61 really helped my confidence."

It also helped persuade him to give up his basketball career to focus entirely on golf. As the starting shooting guard for the Yellow Jackets last season, the 6-foot Johnson averaged more than seven points a game.

"It was kind of a tough decision because I enjoyed basketball," Johnson said. "It's a lot of fun. But I think I have a better chance of getting a college scholarship in golf than I would in basketball."

"After he shot that 61, it was almost like something went off in his mind that gave him the confidence, and he's done well ever since," said Lance's mother, Donna Johnson. "He's one of those kids that gets tunnel vision when they find something they like."

One of the reasons Johnson enjoys golf is because of golf's individual nature.

"It's just you out there," Johnson said.

Today, Johnson will have some help. Fourball matches are scheduled, and he'll partner with Jeff Pope against John McCormick and Ryan McCook.

In Sunday's singles matches, Johnson will take on Williams in a battle of the two teen-agers.

Johnson has recently starting working with Augusta Country Club head pro Tommy Brannen.

"He liked my rhythm and my swing, but he thought it was a little too flat," Johnson said. "We're going to change that soon."

TEE TIMES

9 a.m.: Jamie Felder-Gene Thomas (Ga.) vs. Trey Keepers-Allen Tipton (S.C.).


9:10: Ryan McCook-John McCormick (Ga.) vs. Jeff Pope-Lance Johnson.


9:20: Jay Wilkes-Willie Williams (Ga.) vs. Randy Sapp-Eric Ledford.


9:30: Jay Blackburn-Paul Atchison (Ga.) vs. Rusty Flanders-Mark Givens.


9:40: George Bullard-Greg Scurlock (Ga.) vs. Bud Zipf-Lance Jones.


9:50: Chuck Withers-Kenny Larry (Ga.) vs. Jeff Roberts-Gerard Maxfield.


10:00: Mike Jackson-Frank Perry (Ga.) vs. Jim Brisson-Glen Hurt.

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.