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Golf coursing through his veins


Bay man breaks course record, team takes second at D3 nationals



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The scorecard for the old Big Foot Country Club course record of 66, set in 1957 by Henry Ransom, sits in a case in the clubhouse.
August 10, 2011 | 08:01 AM
WILLIAMS BAY — Area sports fans might not recognize the name Stefan Johnson. But the way the 20-year-old is playing right now, they won't soon forget him.

Johnson recently broke the 54-year-old course record at Big Foot Country Club with an eight-under round of 72. The previous record, 66, was held by both Henry Ransom and longtime Big Foot professional Roy Wallin.

A junior at Division 3 Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Ill., Johnson played a key role at his golf team's second-place finish at nationals last year. They just missed the national title by six strokes.

Johnson, an Evanston, Ill. native, attended Williams Bay Elementary through eighth grade. For high school, he went to Marian Central in Woodstock, Ill.

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A future accountant and professional golf hopeful, Johnson sat down with the Regional News Friday at his Williams Bay home to discuss his beginnings in golf, college life and his success at Big Foot Country Club.

RN: What was the biggest attraction to Marian Central?

SJ: My mom is Catholic, and she wanted to give me a Catholic education. We knew a family from Lake Geneva who went there. My graduating class was about 168. Bryan Bulaga, who starts for the Packers, was a couple years older than me in school there.

RN: When did you first get into golf?

SJ: It started when I was 2. My dad had me out there with a cut-down, Ben Hogan 6-iron. It was really small. He had me out there chopping around ever since then. I played in a junior golf program at Hillmoor back in the day. I didn't actually play in any tournaments until after my junior year of high school. I didn't play competitively until my freshman year in high school.

RN: At what point did you realize you could play at the collegiate level?

SJ: I've always loved golf. It was always my favorite sport. I went to state my junior year of high school, and I made it again my senior year, and the Wesleyan coach contacted me.

RN: How has your time at Wesleyan been so far?

SJ: My freshman year, I made the lineup (top five guys). In the national tournament, I was replaced by an upperclassman. But my sophomore year, last spring, we went to nationals again in Greensboro, N.C. We took second, which was the best finish in school history. Around 35 teams make nationals. We were 21-over par, and the winning team was only six strokes ahead of us. I remember looking at the leaderboard the last day, and we were tied with Greensboro (who won it) with six holes left.

RN: Are you excited for your junior season?

SJ: We lost two guys, but we still have three back from the national team. We also have some good freshman coming in, and I think we can contend for the national title this year.

RN: How have you been doing individually?

SJ: The important thing is as long as you're producing good scores, you will stay in the lineup. From fall to spring, sometimes your spring average is higher. My fall average was 74 last year, and my spring average was 75. I want to try to get that closer to even par this year. Nationals was pretty awesome. I made a couple big numbers early and got myself in a hole. I shot 76s the last two days, but both days I made two birdies in my last four holes. It was a great experience.

RN: What is your history with Big Foot Country Club?

SJ: I applied for a bunch of jobs and didn't even get a phone call. I don't know if that's a curse or a blessing. Every day, I wake up early and get out there and practice. Then I work out and eat, and somewhere between 2 and 4 p.m., my dad and I play 18 holes. On weekends, I'll play both Saturday and Sunday mornings. My dad, Craig, plays at the club. He was a hockey player for a long time before playing golf. Right now, he's a 5 handicap.

RN: Take me through the day you broke the Big Foot C.C. course record.

SJ: Back on June 20, I shot a 67 and missed it by one. A couple weeks later, I was playing with a guy by the name of Bob Afton, whose father-in-law is actually a holder of the previous record (66). Bob's a retired PGA professional. When I played with Bob, I tied the record with a 66. Then on July 26, I was playing a scotch game with a couple of my college buddies. You have a partner, and you get a point for closeness to the hole, a point for low ball and two points for low total. You can get up to 12 points. I went par, then birdie, then par and birdie. I was 4-under through nine holes. On the back nine, I parred 10, 11, 12 and 13, then I birdied 14 and 15. I was six under, then I birdied 16, parred 17 and made a 30-foot putt from the fringe on 18 to break the record. I shook my dad's hand.

RN: Is Big Foot a difficult course?

SJ: It's a par 73, which you don't usually see. There's a lot of local knowledge. If you don't know where to hit the ball, you can score pretty high. It's not an easy course by any means.

RN: Why do you like golf so much?

SJ: There's a lot of reward, and you feel really good about yourself after a good shot. I've got a competitive nature. Some of the things you learn in golf are applicable in everyday life. When players make a big number, they tend to get upset. You have to remain even keel. That's something I like about it.

RN: Are you playing anywhere else before college starts back up?

SJ: My summer tournament schedule just ended. I play in some in Wisconsin and Illinois. I've been making a couple swing changes, and it's been a productive summer. I made the cut at the State Am but didn't really contend for anything. I've been working on hitting better spots on my backswing. I tend to lag the club head, so I've been trying to get more solid at the top. Then I've tried a couple short-game changes. Our first qualifying round is Aug. 19, and our first tournament (in Iowa) is in September.

RN: Who do you guys play during the season?

SJ: We're kind of lucky because we've had a good amount of success over the years. We've won our conference tournament eight out of the last 11 years. We have a pretty decent budget. We're going to Florida twice in the fall. We play in Georgia every spring break and play teams from all over the country.

RN: What are you majoring in, and how do you balance school and golf?

SJ: I'm an accounting major, and Wesleyan is one of the only schools in the Midwest that gets you out with your CPA in four years as opposed to five. There's a lot of jammed credit hours you have to make room for. It's tough, and Wesleyan isn't easy academically. There's a lot of library time in between the course and sleeping. Originally for freshman, it's tough finding the balance between school and golf. You have to stay eligible to play, and the minimum grade-point average goes up as you get older.

RN: In 10 years, where do you want to be?

SJ: Right now, it's just get through school. I'd like to play golf for as long as I can. It's tough to make a living playing golf. There's a learning curve where you have to work your way up. It's a decision I'll have to make after my senior year. But it's expensive. Just to play a mini tour, it's like $18,000 for 11 tournaments.

RN: What do you like to do in your free time?

SJ: It's a blast down at Wesleyan. I'm in a fraternity, so there's always something going on. You're real close with everybody, and it's a great time. People get the fraternity stereotype from the big schools, but it's different at Wesleyan. Everybody in my frat is an athlete at the school. We just all liked sports, so it's like, "Let's live together."

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