Only three weeks into the 2012 season, Johnson Wagner has become golf’s latest folk hero and even attracted a growing cult following.
Unfortunately, I don’t have photos, but if you caught Golf Channel’s telecast, then you saw the five young men — Steven Becker, 24, Geordi Lobe, 25, Willi Lobe, 27, Colby Nelson, 24, and Matt Nelson, 27 — from Alberta, Canada, who wore fake mustaches (that they bought from Party City), and lived and died by every shot for 18 holes on Sunday at the Humana Challenge, cheering on their inspiration.
“I saw them on the first tee box today and they looked pretty good,” said Johnson after shooting a bogey-free seven-under 65 in the final round to place in a three-way tie for second. “Their ‘stashes were probably a little darker than mine. It was nice to have support out there today. I don’t have any family in town, so it was great to have guys following me.”
Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.
You see, Wagner showed up in Kapalua for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions with a new look — a sweet, sweet mustache reminiscent of Tom Selleck during the Magnum P.I. era — and an extra boost of confidence from all the comments and the hard work he’d put in during the off-season. The results were almost immediate. Johnson had a sneaky top-ten finish at the ToC (okay, so there were only 27 guys there, but it counts for something!), and then of course, he snagged his third-career victory last week at the Sony Open, the PGA Tour’s first full-field event.
Near the 14th green at Palmer Private on Sunday, a fan (not one of the fake ‘stash-wearers) called out, “Nice ‘stash!”, as Johnson passed by. He looked over, pointed back at the group, and quipped, “Not as good as these guys!”
Asked what they were calling themselves, the boys, who all play golf and say they’ve been following Johnson’s career for the last few years, didn’t seem to be set on a name. One of them threw around “Wagner’s Warriors” but didn’t seem entirely sold, but let’s go with that for now (and I’m sick of calling them “five guys”).
Asked what they liked most about the ‘stash, Willi cracked, with a straight face, “Probably the class associated with it.”
(Definitely deserves quote of the day honors.)
If you didn’t see Wagner’s Warriors, you could certainly hear them. They were the loudest and most supportive when Johnson dropped in bombs for birdies on Nos. 5 and 6 from about 41 and 20 feet, respectively, to get in the mix. He carded his 10th consecutive round in the 60s (not to mention shot 68-67-66-65 this week) to continue his streak of stellar golf, which he was fully aware of.
“Yeah, (ten rounds in a row) under par,” he said, referring to the stretch. “It’s been a great start to the year.”
What’s more, the courses from the past two (actually, three) weeks, the Humana Challenge and the Sony Open, couldn’t be more different.
“I’ve been playing well and working on things with my coach, Bobby Heintz, and then I had a short-game guy here this week, Tony Martinez,” said Johnson. “I’ve just got a lot of great work in. It’s easy to see results when you work hard and practice hard.
“Now I’ve got time next week to celebrate, but I want to keep getting better and better.”
Next stop? The notorious Waste Management Open, aka the Phoenix Open, which is more like a massive lawn (or frat) party than a golf tournament and includes one of my favorite features of the year — the par-3 16th Stadium hole that resembles its namesake, a football stadium, and known for the heckling fans, who will impress with their thorough research of the players.
“I’m looking forward to Phoenix,” said Johnson. “I’m sure I’m going to get my fair share of criticism.”
Or compliments, depending on how you see it.
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)