If Neil Johnson at all felt like he wasn't making enough noise on the Dakotas Tour this summer, the River Falls golfer can't make that claim anymore.
The two most important tools in his bag — his driver and putter — worked their magic Sunday during a final-round 66 at The Pro-Am Jam at Country Club of Sioux Falls (S.D.). His 54-hole total of 15-under 201 gave him a two-stroke win over Minnesotan Robert Bell (71) and Iowan Jeff Swegle (66) and yet another tool that will help Johnson raise the decibel level — an electric guitar that served as the winner's trophy for this laid-back mini-tour event.
"I was battling some demons on Friday and Saturday, but (Sunday) I felt pretty calm and confident," Johnson wrote in a text message to Wisconsin.golf after winning his fourth career multi-round event on the Dakotas Tour and first since 2017. "My swing was as solid as it’s been all summer. On Friday, I felt like I was swinging a hockey stick. One of my amateur partners was playing barefoot while drinking beer and liquor. He was also smoking cigarettes and had chewless tobacco in his lip. ... This tournament BLASTS music throughout the golf course and it’s unbelievably loud at times.
"(It's) tough to focus on your swing and battle your inner demons when there are awful songs being played behind the ninth green. But I guess the loud music was better to listen to than my inner monologue of negativity."
Indeed, Johnson was — wait for it — rockin' to start the final round.
Paired with Bell, the second-round leader, Johnson knew right where he stood after entering the final round in a three-way tie for second, three shots back. And he didn't waste any time flipping the script. He birdied Nos. 2 with a 20-foot birdie putt and No. 4 when he rolled in a 25-footer. Johnson then drove the green on the 301-yard, par-4 fifth hole where he rolled in a 25-foot putt for eagle to draw even with Bell for the first time .
By the time birdied No. 9 to turn in 5-under 31, Johnson was two shots ahead of Bell and four shots clear of the field entering the back nine. He added another birdie on the par-4 10th and never looked back after that.
"The key (Sunday) was my driver and putter," wrote Johnson, who owned a two-shot lead after he birdied No. 9 to make the turn in 5-under 31 and was four shots clear of the rest of the field. "I only missed two fairways today. (I) found myself in the center of the fairway all day. (I) left myself with wedges into almost every par-4. (And my) putter was on fire for the first 10 holes.
"(It was) nice to know exactly what (Bell) was doing AND to put pressure on him. (I was) always in good position. So once the putts started dropping, I felt confident that I could make up the three-shot deficit and move past him. At the turn, I knew I had picked up five shots, but I wasn’t sure what anyone else was doing. On (No.) 14, I finally saw a leaderboard and knew I was beating Robert by three and that no one else was making a big move."
The $20,000 payday should push Johnson into the top five on the Dakotas Tour money list. He has made $27,173 in seven starts despite missing the past two cuts, but has felt good about his game since early in the year.
"It’s always great to get a win," wrote Johnson, who won in mid-April on the DreamChasers Tour in Arizona, lost out on a chance to battle for the top prize in a playoff at the Scottsdale Open after disqualifying himself when he realized the hole-by-hole scores on his card were incorrect and now heads to the Utah State Open full of confidence. "I feel like my game has been in good shape since April, but I’ve had nothing to show for it. One other victory and a painful DQ. I love being in contention and feel I focus best when I’m in that position."
|1||Neil Johnson (p) River Falls, WI||-15||F||-6||69||66||66||201|
|T2||Robert Bell (p) Pierz, MN||-13||F||-1||65||67||71||203|
|T2||Jeff Swegle (p) Cumming, IA||-13||F||-6||67||70||66||203|
|T4||Steven Kupcho (p) Westminster, CO||-12||F||-8||73||67||64||204|
|T4||Chris Gilman (p) Yorba Linda, CA||-12||F||-7||69||70||65||204|
|6||Brady Calkins (p) La Quinta||-11||F||-5||67||71||67||205|
|T7||Ricky Hearden III (p) Green Bay, WI||-10||F||-3||69||68||69||206|
|T7||Andre Metzger (p) Sioux Falls, SD||-10||F||-4||72||66||68||206|
|T9||Doug Quinones (p) Sioux Falls, SD||-8||F||-4||73||67||68||208|
|T9||Jesse Schutte (p) Florence, Or||-8||F||+1||68||67||73||208|
|T9||Tim Ailes (p) Delaware, OH||-8||F||-3||69||70||69||208|
|T12||Nick Delio (p) Valencia, CA||-7||F||-3||71||69||69||209|
|T12||Alistair Docherty (p) Vancouver, WA||-7||F||-4||70||71||68||209|
|T12||Kyle Karazissis (p) Indian Wells, CA||-7||F||+2||69||66||74||209|
|T15||Tony Albano, Jr (p) Park Ridge, IL||-6||F||-3||71||70||69||210|
|T15||Brad Marek (p) San Francisco, CA||-6||F||-3||70||71||69||210|
|17||Aaron Whalen (p) Ephrata, WA||-5||F||+2||70||67||74||211|
|T18||Joshua Gibson (p) Grandville, MI||-4||F||+1||72||67||73||212|
|T18||Rodney Hamblin (p) Saint Paul, MN||-4||F||-1||73||68||71||212|
|T20||Alex Scott Traverse City, MI||-3||F||E||70||71||72||213|
|T20||Brandon Tsujimoto (p) Pomona, CA||-3||F||+1||70||70||73||213|
|T20||Gregory Robarge (p) Ventura, CA||-3||F||+2||70||69||74||213|