Niagara Gazette

July 26, 2013

Porter Cup Notebook: Auburn's Johnson gets first taste

By Brandon Schlager
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette —

LEWISTON — When Michael Johnson tapped in for par from the green of the Niagara Falls Country Club’s 18th hole Thursday, he embraced each player in his group with a firm handshake and a friendly pat on the shoulder.

He then walked to the scorer’s tent to submit his spoils from the day before meeting his parents, who arrived in town earlier this week from their home in Birmingham, Ala., to support their son.

Johnson, a 20-year-old junior at Auburn University, is surrounded by familiar faces as he plays in his first Porter Cup this year, the 55th running of the prestigious tournament.

Johnson was one of the biggest climbers during Day Two, which featured pristine weather conditions with temperatures in the low 70s around the sun-kissed fairways at NFCC.

After shooting a first-round 71 on Wednesday, Johnson teed off at 9:20 a.m. tied for 24th. By the time he walked off No. 18 about four hours later, his round of 66 helped him climb 15 spots into a tie for ninth place 3 strokes under par entering the third round.

Johnson, rated No. 41 in the Scratch Player World Amateur Rankings, is one of the 44 players in the field of 84 playing at NFCC for the first time. He set a tournament record while winning the Dogwood Invitational this year, shooting a 28-under 260 over four rounds.

Playing his first two rounds alongside a pair of friends, last year’s champion Richy Werenski and runner-up Denny McCarthy, has helped Johnson settle in here.

“It’s nice to have friends out here,” Johnson said of Werenski and McCarthy. “Especially ones who have done well here. … They point out some of the little things you normally wouldn’t see but make all the difference.”

The trio compete in about 15 tournaments together each year. The close proximity of their schools -- Werenski attends Georgia Tech and McCarthy plays at Virginia -- has encouraged the friendship.

Unlike Johnson, McCarthy and Werenski each took a plunge down the leaderboard. 

McCarthy, ranked 27th in the world, went from 12th to 24th with a 2-over 72. Werenski, rated No. 89, also logged a 2-over 72, sending him from 16th to 37th.

“Today we were all pretty relaxed because we all know each other real well,” Werenski said despite his scores. “I mean, it’s just fun. You can’t go out and win every week.

“I’m 2-over for the tournament, but it’s not like I’m going to go sit in my room and think about it right now. It’s still an awesome time tournament. All my friends are here, so it will still be good.”

•••

• Local boy Michael Boss shot a 1-over 71, placing him 62nd at 7-over through two rounds. Boss, a Lewiston resident who was a late add to the tournament after a few drop-outs, spent the past two days playing alongside Porter Cup veteran Tim Mickelson, the brother of five-time major champion Phil Mickelson.

At age 36, Mickelson is playing in his ninth Porter Cup. He currently sits in a tie for 25th but shot a 5-under 65 to tie for the top score on Day Two.

Mickelson, who is the head coach of the golf squad at Arizona State University, came to the Porter Cup for the golf in 1996 but it’s his love for the area and mentoring the younger players that keeps him coming back.

“I just like coming back and feeling like I’m a part of the community for a week,” Mickelson said, adding that he plans to spend the rest of this week on the Niagara River or taking in Niagara Falls. “Just the atmosphere is so much fun. I’ve literally watched kids grown up from age 5 to now they’re in college. So I’ve really got a connection to Niagara Falls Country Club and certainly the tournament itself.”

Mickelson said he felt like he was playing with his brother after a hometown crowd of about 20 folks gathered to cheer Boss on.

“He was a great kid. I was really impressed with him as a person individually and the golf game is actually pretty solid,” Mickelson said. “It was pretty cool knowing that he’s kind of the local favorite. This has to be pretty awesome for him growing up (here) and having everyone come out and support him.”

• Gavin Hall’s home in Pittsford is only about 60 minutes down the I-90, so you might’ve thought the crowd of about 40 spectators that accumulated around his group were there to watch him.

“They were cheering for Beau (Hossler),” Hall admitted, though his second-round even 70 puts him in a tie for 14th, 11 spots behind his partner Hossler in third.

Hossler and Hall will be teammates at the University of Texas next season.

Hall, 18, is playing in his first Porter Cup since he placed second in 2010 as a 15-year-old. He shot 9-under that year over the final two rounds. Now he’s hoping history will repeat itself.

“I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” said Hall, who admitted the fast greens got the best of him on Day Two. “I didn’t shoot myself out of the golf tournament, so I’ve got two more days to try and make as many birdies as I can. The lead’s always low here. It’s just basically how many putts you can make.”

• The golf was about as good as could be expected Thursday from a field that features 27 of the world’s Top 100 players. Golfers averaged a 70.76, down nearly two strokes from a cold and windy Day One. Twenty players shot under par.

• Four players -- leader Tyler Dunlap, Mickelson Brady Watt and Amherst’s Patrick Sheedy Jr. -- shot a 5-under 65, which topped the field on Day Two.

Follow contributing sports reporter Brandon Schlager on Twitter @B_Schlag.