Myrtle Beach’s Dustin Johnson looks forward to The Masters

April 6, 2009

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In its first decade, the TPC of Myrtle Beach has earned a reputation as one of the best Myrtle Beach golf courses – hosting the PGA Senior TOUR Championship and one of the nation’s premier college tournaments bestows that sort of credibility.

Now the Murrells Inlet facility has another high profile feather in its cap. Rising PGA TOUR star Dustin Johnson calls the course home, practicing at the TPC of Myrtle Beach when he isn’t playing.

“It’s a great golf course,” Johnson said of Myrtle Beach’s only 5-star layout. “It’s always in good shape, our practice facilities here are very good, and the staff here is unbelievable. They are very welcoming.”

Johnson’s ties to Myrtle Beach run deeper than the TPC. After growing up near Columbia, S.C., he played his collegiate golf at Coastal Carolina University, where head coach Allen Terrell helped mold Johnson into a star. Johnson left Coastal as a two-time All-American and led the Chanticleers to a fifth place finish in the 2007 NCAA Championships.

Terrell, who still presides over the powerful Coastal program, remains Johnson’s coach on the professional level.

“Being a part of Coastal it really helped me a lot,” said Johnson, who returned home for the prestigious General Hackler Tournament, an elite college event played at the TPC. “I wasn’t quite mature, my game wasn’t quite ready (when I arrived). Working with coach Terrell, I got a lot more self discipline. It was a great experience being here.

The experience was good enough that Johnson now calls Myrtle Beach home on a permanent basis. While Myrtle Beach golf aficionados have long marveled at Johnson’s prodigious length and talent, the golf world began to take notice when he won the Turning Stone Resort Championship with birdies on the final two holes last October.

Johnson made an 8-foot putt on the 72nd hole to defeat Tour veteran Robert Allenby and secure his card for two years. The victory, which came in the so-called “Fall Season,” gained notice but it was Johnson’s February victory at AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am that attracted the spotlight.

The tournament was shortened to 54 due to rain but Johnson was overpowering the field with a four-shot lead when the final round was canceled. The victory was his second in nine starts – dating back to Turning Stone – and it moved him into the 50 in the world rankings.

The win secured a dream of Johnson’s – to play in The Masters – and his ascension in the world rankings put him in the field for the World Golf Championship events, a boon to anyone’s pocket book.

While it was nice to have a spot in the field at the Accenture Match Play and CA Championships at Doral, Johnson has his eyes year’s first major.

“I’m looking forward to The Masters,” he said. “I’ve been there before and walked the course (but never played). Growing up right down the road from it, it was always my favorite tournament. I can’t wait to go there and play.”

Johnson is currently 7th on the PGA TOUR money list and in the FedEx Cup point standings. He is eighth on Tour in driving distance, averaging 301.3 yards per drive, and is No. 1 in par breakers, registering a birdie or eagle 27.56 percent of the time.

Given his success – he has won as many times as Anthony Kim – Johnson remains under the radar, but if he keeps improving at the same rate, he will be a household name far beyond Myrtle Beach.