Neil Johnson slept well Thursday night.
That's saying something because the River Falls native was sleeping on the floor of his empty Phoenix apartment on the eve of a cross-country drive to North Carolina for a Web.com Tour qualifier and the start of his summer golf schedule. Minus $20,000 under his pillow.
One would think a mini-tour golfer who disqualified himself from the chance to compete from the aforementioned top prize at the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Open — after he had earned the right to mix it up with two others in a playoff for the $20K —would have been sleepless or restless or whatever state of slumber comes with someone counting dollar signs jumping into another golfer's pocket.
Not so, Johnson said. It was the right thing to do.
Here is what happened: Johnson followed a 69-66 start with a final-round 65 and, seemingly, a chance to grab a payday rich enough to fund 44 Monday qualifiers on the Web.com Tour. Or 100 pre-qualifiers on the PGA Tour.
"No one else on that golf course played better than me," Johnson said when I tracked him down on the road Friday. "One guy shot a lower score, but he made the cut on the number so he went off the back nine, playing for nothing. I went out and shot 31 on the front and tied for the lead when I made the turn and then took the lead and was playing the best golf. I wasn't going to lose that playoff."
He never got the chance to prove it.
As Johnson looked at his scorecard online while passing time at the practice green before the likely playoff, something didn't look right. When he and his playing partners had arrived at the scorer's table following the round, Johnson noticed the playing partner keeping his scorecard had forgotten to record the birdie 3 he made on the 15th hole and then wrote the scores for Nos. 16, 17 and 18 into the respective squares for Nos. 15, 16 and 17.
Johnson caught the mistake on No. 15 and made him change it from a 4 to a 3. He also reminded the scorer of what he made on No. 18, but — after all 18 numbers added up to 65 — didn't inspect the scores recorded for him at Nos. 16 and 17, which needed to be accurate to avoid disqualification.
The scorecard Johnson signed suggested he made a 4 on No. 17 when he actually made a 5. Since the 65 was a 65, that meant he signed for a 4 on No. 16 when he made a par-3, which — had he erred in the same direction on the next hole would have still cost him a shot at the playoff, but not the third-place check ($7,725). However, by then, the damage had been done.
"There were four mistakes on my scorecard and I corrected two of them," Johnson said. "I figured out (Nos. 15 and 18), but in between those, on 16 and 17, I missed them. The big problem was on 17, he had me down for a 4, when I actually made a 5. That's where I signed for a lower score and that led to the disqualification.
"Once I turned myself in, every emotion hit me — from anger to sadness to begging, pleading to just wanting to disappear and crawl into, you know, a fetal position. It was a whole gamut of emotions. It was a tough hour."
Indeed, the USGA and the R&A cleaned up the Rules of Golf last winter, reducing the number of rules from 34 to 24 and changing the language of many rules to become a bit more practical to serious golfers and understandable to beginning golfers. None of the revisions address incompetence in keeping a playing partner's card.
Instead, it is still a golfer's responsibility to agree to the number recorded beneath each hole by his playing partner and clarify scores that might be in dispute. Johnson's signature signaled that he felt his scores were all good once he thought he had cleaned up the mess that were the final four holes of his card.
"It comes down to me," Johnson said. "I signed the scorecard. I made the mistake."
Brady Calkins of LaQuinta, California, outlasted Richard Lee of Phoenix in the playoff. Calkins pocketed the $20,000 winner's check; Lee earned $11,200 for finishing second.
And Johnson? He stood by dumbfounded at his tough luck.
He crashed and burned like a NASCAR driver with a chance at the checkered flag on the final lap. In this case, the result was the same — the tournament paid him $865 for essentially finishing last among the 52 golfers who made the cut, despite the DQ.
By the time Johnson got behind the wheel Friday and set out along I-40 in search of his next golfing opportunity, he knew there was a much bigger reward for the previous day's calamity.
Even at age 37, Johnson — the 2005 Wisconsin State Golf Association player of the year — is still learning from his mistakes. Two weeks earlier, Johnson called a penalty on himself after deeming he caused his ball to move before a shot and, after taking his medicine, proceeded to birdie the next two holes.
"As harsh as this is, I'll never do this again," Johnson said. "I'll never make this mistake again. I'm going to learn from this. I've learned from hundreds of thousands of mistakes in my golf career."
Word of this mistake spread quickly at Talking Stick GC. Golfers approached to get the scoop from Johnson, who was told this might not have been the first time the other culprit in this tale played that role.
That revelation can't replace the $19,135 his DQ possibly cost him. But it did remind him that there are still things greater than money and sleep is one of them.
"Me, personally, I slept like a baby (Thursday) night because I turned myself in; my conscience was clear," Johnson said. "It felt horrible in the moment, but I eventually calmed down and realized I played great golf. Nobody beat me. And I have the rest of the summer to look forward to."
I love golf....but some rules are just stupid. Getting a DQ for signing an incorrect scorecard is a bit harsh..It’s extra painful when you shoot 65 to tie for the lead and then have to watch 2 other guys battle in a playoff that I should’ve been in. @ScottsdaleOpen— Neil Johnson (@neilpjohnson) May 24, 2019
Scorecard should say......3-4-4-4-3-3-3-3-4-4-3-3-4-4-3-4-5-4(Not a dq) 🤦♂️painful mistake that cost me $19,000 pic.twitter.com/SziRkPgCbg— Neil Johnson (@neilpjohnson) May 24, 2019
These are the only types of DQs I like. pic.twitter.com/gLhEgGQuCX— Neil Johnson (@neilpjohnson) May 24, 2019