She was a natural athlete on the basketball court and softball diamond while growing up in Oklahoma. After moving to Maine, Johnson pushed herself to state championships in racquetball and competed in triathlons.

Golf was a more practical means for keeping a healthy body and mind into the second half of her life. And yes, Johnson, like anybody who has tried the game more than once, laughs at the irony.

“I love the grind, even though it’s the most humiliating and humbling game I’ve ever played,” Johnson said. “Every other sport you go harder, go faster, and it helps you. Golf is just the opposite.”

Twelve years after gravitating to the sport, Johnson is a rarity in the tri-county region: A woman who competes in golf at more than a recreational level.

Johnson was one of only eight Maine women to play in the New England Women’s Amateur, held July 7-9 at Ledgemont Country Club in Seekonk, Mass. She finished 48th overall and fourth among players from the Pine Tree State.

Next up on her championship schedule is the state amateur tournament, a 54-hole tournament starting next Monday, July 27 at Biddeford-Saco Country Club.

“The women don’t like to compete. It drives me crazy,” Johnson said. “I want people to take a shot at me and I want to have my shot to play them. But they just don’t like that. The ones who push ourselves are the ones who play in the New England Amateur and Maine Amateur.”

Johnson is three-time defending women’s club champion at Martindale CC, a rewarding title but one that she uses as evidence of others’ ambivalence toward competition.

She won the first tournament in 2012 against a field of “seven or eight,” she said. The next summer, it dropped to three players. And last year’s club championship was a simple match between Johnson and Neila Nelke.

It’s the polar opposite approach from Johnson, who enters a tournament almost every week.

“I play a lot. At least four times a week, sometimes more,” Johnson said. “I try to improve by pushing myself and getting out there.”

In addition to her club championships, Johnson set the women’s course record at Spring Meadows in Gray last summer with 71.

She shrugs that off, as well.

“Then I turned around and shot 90,” Johnson said. “I do that all the time. I shot 69 (at Martindale) three weeks ago and (Wednesday) was the first time I’ve broken 80 since.”

Johnson took her first lesson from Ron Bibeau, then the club professional at Martindale. Since then, she is primarily self-taught.

“I’ve played with a lot of people who are better and tried to take some parts of the game from them. That helps,” Johnson said. “For me, it’s all mental. I’ve always excelled in sports. If I could ever get my head to line up with my athletic ability, I’d be a hell of a golfer. I’ve heard people say that little golf ball is a telltale sign of where your mind is. If you’re stressed at all, it comes out.”

That list of role models in the game includes reigning women’s amateur state champion Leslie Guenther of Norway and two-time past winner Kristin Kannegieser of Minot.

She was Guenther’s partner this past week in a tournament on the Arrowhead course at Natanis in Vassalboro. Guenther shot 69.

“That’s experience,” Johnson said. “I looked at one of the buttons on her bag and it was from a USGA tournament in 1982. I was a year out of high school.”

Johnson also teamed up with 2014 men’s state champion Andrew Slattery in the recent Maine mixed championship. They tied for sixth in the gross category with the Kannegiesers, mother Kristin and son Will.

“I was less nervous for the New England Amateur, and Andrew is a great guy and we’re friends,” Johnson said. “It’s just different when you’re playing as a team. You don’t want to let your partner down.”

Prior to the New England Amateur, Johnson’s handicap was 6.2. That will put her in one of the featured groups at Biddeford-Saco. She was tied for second after the opening round at Brunswick two years ago before dropping off the leader board.

Johnson considers Emily Bouchard of the home club and Staci Creech of Bangor Municipal the favorites along with Guenther and Kannegieser.  Creech, the wife of University of Maine athletic director Karlton Creech, played collegiately at North Carolina and finished third at New Englands.

When asked if her goal, then, is simply to have fun, Johnson laughed out loud again.

“I’m never out there just to have fun. It’s not fun! It’s a grind,” Johnson said. “I’d like to be in the top 10. I’m capable of that. I’m a good enough golfer to do that.”

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