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FAMILY LINKS : 3 Johnson Brothers Share Passion and Talent for Golf

April 13, 1989|RALPH NICHOLS | Times Staff Writer

Barbara Johnson is what you might call a tolerant mother. She did not mind when her sons--Jeff, Jim and John--practiced chip shots in the hallway or putts in the living room of her Ventura home.

Her children were never discouraged from practicing golf in the house as long as they adhered to two rules:

No fairway woods indoors.

Replace all divots in the carpet.

The Johnson brothers never really used a fairway wood in the house. But they did practice golfing everywhere else while growing up--in their back yard or at the golf courses and country clubs near their home.

And when they were not playing golf, they were discussing it. Golf was the favorite topic of conversation at the Johnson dinner table throughout the formative years for Jim, Jeff and John.

"My mother used to get really sick of us talking about golf at dinner," Jim said. "She would say, 'That's enough.' "

The Johnson brothers' love affair with golf--which started when their father, Al, taught them the game as youngsters--has not waned over the years. If anything, it has become more of an obsession.

Both Jim and Jeff Johnson played for Ventura College before going to UCLA on golf scholarships.

As a senior at UCLA in 1982, Jeff was ranked third in the Pac-10 behind Bruin teammates Corey Pavin--who was the NCAA and Pac-10 Player of the Year in '82--and Jay Delsing. Four from that '82 UCLA team--Pavin, Delsing, Steve Pate and Duffy Waldorf--joined the pro tour.

Like his UCLA teammates, Jeff, 28, also tried to make the PGA tour, but failed to qualify. He played on several mini-tours after leaving UCLA and is now an assistant pro at Buenaventura Golf Course.

Even though Jeff never made the pro tour, he had a successful college career. UCLA golf Coach Eddie Merrins said that Jeff was a key factor in the Bruins winning their first Pac-10 golf title in 1982.

"He was very competitive in the second half of that year and that really helped us to win the title," Merrins said. "Jeff was a very determined player and that is usually the difference between those who succeed in this game and those who don't."

All three Johnson brothers have been successful college golfers. Jim, 22, now a senior on the UCLA golf team, won the state junior college championship for Ventura in 1986.

John, a sophomore at Ventura, has also landed in the Pirate record books as only the second golfer in school history to shoot a 65.

John, 21, is the youngest brother and--according to Ventura Coach Brian Marshall, who coached all three of the Johnson brothers--is probably the most talented golfer in the family.

He proved his talent last month when he shot a six-under-par 65 at Simi Hills Golf Course in Simi Valley. Johnson had five birdies on the first nine holes and finished with eight birdies and only one bogey.

"It was truly a phenomenal feat," Marshall said. "It takes another golfer to understand just how good a score that is."

John had an equally impressive round Monday when he shot a six-under-par 66 at Saticoy Country Club in Camarillo, which has a course rating of 74.4. He had seven birdies and one bogey in the round.

After leading Ventura to a Western State Conference title in 1987, John sat out last season to improve his grades. His strong play this season has kept the Pirates (10-0 in conference play) in contention for their second WSC title in three years.

"John is definitely one of the top three or four golfers in the state," Marshall said. "We probably would have finished first or second instead of sixth if John was on last year's team.

"Players the caliber of John do not come along very often. They are usually plucked off by the four-year colleges."

UCLA was interested in John out of Buena High, but he opted for Ventura in order to improve both his grades and his golf game. All three Johnson brothers wanted to lower their golf scores at a community college before going on to a four-year school.

Apparently, the plan worked. All three improved at Ventura and each credit Marshall with making them better golfers.

After going to UCLA, Jeff cut two strokes off his average of 73 at Ventura. Jim, however, has continued to average between 74 and 76 at UCLA--the same as his average at Ventura.

"Only a very small percentage of players who go on are successful at the level of UCLA," Marshall said.

"I always thought that Merrins' coaching was responsible for the vast improvement that Jeff made after leaving here. He was a good community college player when he left me, but at UCLA he developed into one of the finest college golfers in the nation."

Jim has not equaled his older brother's success at UCLA, but he left a mark at Ventura for his younger brother, John, to match. Jim is the only one of the Johnson brothers to win a state title for the Pirates.

As the youngest, John was always trying to equal his older brothers' accomplishments--first at Buena and then at Ventura.

Said John: "Since my two older brothers were always better than me, that helped me a lot when I was younger. I worked harder and I was always trying to compete with their scores."

John and Jim played together on the Buena golf team, but they were competing against each other long before high school.

The Johnsons got free lessons from local pros at the area golf courses in exchange for working at the pro shop. When they could not make it to the golf course, the brothers practiced chipping in their parents' back yard or putting in the living room.

Today, however, the Johnsons are usually too busy pursuing their golfing careers to play together. They usually get together only once a year--on Christmas Day--for a round.

"It's not very competitive anymore because we know that each one of us can beat the others on a given day," Jim said. "John is probably the most competitive of the three of us, but nobody gets upset anymore if we lose."

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