Johnson Wagner showed up for the 2012 season at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions with a new look — a mustache (also been called a “pornstache, “molestache,” etc.) that rivaled Magnum P.I. (which, by the way, Johnson considers a compliment) — along with a new sense of confidence, resulting from his hard work in the off-season.
Well, it looks like both are here to stay after firing a three-under 67, 13-under total to win the Sony Open by two over Carl Pettersson, Sean O’Hair, Harrison Frazar and Charles Howell III.
Johnson is no stranger to the winner’s circle, having captured the 2008 Shell Houston Open (to get into the Masters at the last minute) and the 2011 Mayakoba Golf Classic (which was huge because he finished No. 126 on the 2010 money list and only had conditional status), but this third title feels a little different. Maybe because he predicted he was going to win early in the season. He told his wife, his parents, his brother and his trainer.
Why? “The speed, maybe,” said Wagner jokingly in his post-win presser.
At least that’s what his dad thinks, and if you were sitting in that presser, you probably would have, too. He certainly has a ton of energy, which I’m sure is partly a result of the adrenaline rush from winning.
“It’s weird, I feel incredible right now,” said Wagner, who started working out for the first time in his life last April and lost ten-to-fifteen pounds in the off-season . “I’m so excited to win but it feels different this time. It feels like this is kind of just the beginning, like there’s better things coming. I’m not saying I’m going to go win the Masters or anything, but I’ve got a chance now; I’m in the tournament.
“I’m just going to try to get better every day. It’s a terrible cliché but I’m just going to try to get better and keep working out and keep doing the things I’m doing. My body is not perfect, that’s for sure. I’ve got a lot of room to get fitter.”
Did that create added pressure?
“It wasn’t like I was calling the Golf Channel and saying, ‘I’m going to win early this year.’ I was telling the people that were really close to me, my closest friends and family. It was not like I was shouting it from on top of the mountains. But yeah, it felt good to say it.
“Even out there today, your mind wanders so much in this game; you look ahead, and I’m sure I looked over on the 14th hole and saw a lady in a Masters shirt and I was like, ‘Oohh, I’d better not look at that, because I didn’t want to think of the Masters.’ It’s okay to think it and say it. You just have to when you’re out there playing, you just have to focus on what you’re doing and not get ahead.”
Johnson explained the source of this renewed confidence.
“It was the start of December, the mustache was young,” he said. “I was working out hard. I was really my dad thought I was on speed or something. I just had all of this energy from working out and I guess that’s what it was.
“I just had a couple really good sessions with my coach, Bobby (Heinz), down in Florida and the whole month of December, I was playing great at home. I was striking it well. I went back to an old putter that I had used before and just everything seemed to click.
“I remember having a conversation with my brother in mid-December and I was on fire. I felt like could I have gone and won anywhere in the world that week and I looked at him and I said, when I’ve gotten to this point in my career, I wanted to just maintain where I’m at, and I looked at him and I said, that’s where I always fall and start down on a bad path.”
With the wind blowing in more from the South than the Southwest, like the previous rounds, the leaderboard was jammed as Wagner was making the turn, but consecutive birdies on Nos. 9 and 10 put him one ahead and he never looked back.
Surviving through the front nine was the toughest challenge for him. He was 14-under and bogey-free on the back for the week.
“I shot five-under on my first nine holes on Thursday (teed off No. 10 and played the back first),” said Wagner. “And I started planning my interview for when I’d be sitting in here for the 59 I was going to shoot. Then I made four bogeys in a row or something on the front nine and kind of brought me back down to earth a little bit.”
From the fringe on No. 15, he rolled in a 14-footer for birdie to get to 13-under and two in front of the guys who were already in the clubhouse and that gave him some cushion. He nearly missed a tap-in for par on 18, but he slid right in.
Blah, blah, blah — I know what you guys really want to hear about is the source of the ‘stache.
“I was with my wife’s family in Richmond for Thanksgiving and I just didn’t shave the entire week,” said Johnson, who now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and calls Quail Hollow his home course. “When I got home, I thought, I’ve never had facial hair. So I thought it was too much growth to just let it go to waste. I shaved everything but the mustache, and it kind of went from there. My wife really hated it at the beginning, which made me want to grow it even more.
“And then actually I played in a little tournament the first of December down in Naples and saw Carl Pettersson and George McNeill, and they were both just like, ‘You’ve got to keep it until Hawai’i. We have to see this thing in a month.’ So I had a lot of motivation to keep it…I kind of made a deal with myself in December that if I was to get into the Masters, then I was going to keep the mustache for at least this year. I kind of kept telling people and everybody said, ‘Oh, is it a Movember mustache? Well, it’s December time to shave it.’
“I said, ‘Look, this is not a one-month mustache. This is potentially a ten-year mustache.’ So I think it’s going to be around for a while. Now if the summer heat gets to me, I may shave it off. But I’m going to try to make it as long as I can.”
I’ve been hearing about what a legend Johnson Wagner is for nearly three years from good friend Kevin Ryan (Intern Kevin), who played high school golf against him (and is the only reason I’ve been able to pick Johnson out of a line-up since 2009), but I’d just taken his word for it. Then I saw the ‘stache in Maui, and his solid performance on Sunday, along with the brilliant presser, made it official.
Congrats, Johnson, and those who had him in their Fantasy Golf line-ups this week, which from my understanding, is quite a few (not just Intern Kevin) — I mean, really, the guy had missed the cut the last three years! I guess that T9 finish in Kapalua the week before got you all fired up. Oh, here’s a nice quote to end on…
“When I first got out here (in 2007), it was so great and then I won the next year (in 2008),” he said. “There’s so many good guys out here. I love being out here, there’s so many great players, but why are they any better? Why are people in the top-50 any better than me? I’ve always struggled a little bit with believing in myself.
“Once I started believing in myself a little bit, why stop at top-50? Why can’t I be in the top-10 in the world? I drive it good. I play good golf. I think I just want to be the best I can be.”
Amazing what confidence can do, along with growing a ‘stache.
(AP Photo/Marco Garcia)