Feature story by Ryan Schulz
March 20, 2008
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It's tough to put into words how well Hudson Johnson played last Saturday during the third round of the Kauai Collegiate Cup in Lihue, Hawaii.
Johnson, himself, has a tough time realizing that his play was reality and not a dream.
"It didn't quite sink in because I wasn't in the last group and I was so far back that it didn't quite seem like it was possible," Johnson said. "It is kind of hard to explain."
What Johnson is trying to explain is how he overcame a seven-stroke deficit in the third round by shooting a 9-under 63 en route to earning medalist honors for the first time in his career. His 63 also broke the tournament course record at Wailua Golf Course and placed him in the record book beside former All-American Luke List for the lowest 18-hole score in school history.
Johnson's performance was something not even Nostradamus could have predicted. Not after he opened the tournament with an even-par 72 followed by a 3-over 75. And especially since no one in the tournament shot lower than a 69 in any round.
"I just made putts," Johnson said of his 63. "I hit the ball well, but I didn't have tap-ins a lot. I had a lot of looks and I only missed two birdie opportunities that were legitimate birdie chances."
Entering the third round, medalist honors seemed out of reach for Johnson, who entered the final 18 holes at 3-over par and seven strokes behind Oklahoma Christian's Rhein Gibson for the tournament lead. It seemed like a task not even someone on the PGA Tour would be up for, let alone a college sophomore from Longview, Texas, who had never broken 70 in his college career.
"Unless you are Tiger Woods, you don't come back from that kind of margin and then to win by that ... that's a little unheard of," Vanderbilt head coach Tom Shaw said."
Johnson not only overcame the seven-stroke differential, he outdistanced the rest of the field by four strokes. He finished the 54-hole event with a 6-under 210, while three players, including teammate Jon Curran, tied for second with a 2-under 214. In total, Johnson's ascent up the leaderboard was an 11-stroke swing from the start of the third round to his final putt on 18.
"On the first day, I had decent nines, but I couldn't get everything to click because mentally I was up and down," Johnson said. "The first 18 on the first day I shot a 72, but my nines were 4-over and 4-under, really high and really low. The next day I just told myself to try to stay even keeled and put two good nines together. I just tried to play each nine very well, and I guess that is what happened."
Johnson opened his third round on hole No. 1 and posted birdies on two of the first three holes. His round included one eagle, seven birdies and 10 pars. His seven birdies equaled the total he had in the first two rounds combined.
It is, however, the eagle he had on hole No. 9 that he credits for giving him the spark he needed to shoot the lowest round of his life.
"That was the momentum swing right there," said Johnson, whose previous low was a 64 on a par-70. "When I made that (eagle), I got some momentum and I was going to the side where I knew I could (shoot 4-under), so I got pumped up and I birdied Nos. 10, 11 and 12."
With Johnson playing a round he will remember the rest of his life, Shaw took an approach much like that of a baseball team handling a pitcher who has a no hitter going.
"You try your best not to get in his way and just let it ride," Shaw said. "(As a player) you continue to try to keep your foot on the accelerator pedal and try to continue to make birdies. I think he did a great job of that. Sometimes, some of our guys will get under par and start pushing the break pedal and playing cautious. Hudson is not that kind of guy, he's not afraid to make a lot of birdies and get a real low score, and continue to try to get lower."
The play by Johnson also helped Vanderbilt to its first tournament victory under second-year head coach Tom Shaw.
"I love it when our team does well because it gives you someone else to really experience it with," Johnson said. "Shooting a low number is a lot of fun and winning is a lot of fun, but when you have someone there with you, that in itself is more than an individual goal because it is a good experience."
With his remarkable round now engraved in his memory, Johnson hopes to carry the momentum of his play into the rest of his season.
"Hopefully, I can kind of stay in this area like this and I can help the team out a lot," Johnson said. "We are kind of sitting with our backs to the wall."
Shaw also hopes that Johnson's win will help spur him and the rest of the team on this season.
"He obviously has confidence going forward with this," Shaw said. "A 63 is going to hold up against anybody, anywhere. I know he is feeling good. Hopefully, the guys ride his coattails a little bit.
"We were beat up in the fall pretty good. The opening tournament in the spring we kind of let things get away from us, but since that point we've tried to pull it together a little bit and tried to peak at the right time, and so far, we are doing it."
Johnson and the Commodores will look to parlay their victories into even more success when they make the trip to Greenville, S.C., for the Furman Intercollegiate March 28-30.