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Esky’s Johnson wins 2nd straight UPLGA title

Austin Hemmingson | Daily Press Escanaba’s Paxton Johnson (right) receives the 2019 UPLGA championship trophy from Escanaba Country Club golf pro Jeff Rae Tuesday at ECC. Johnson defeated Gladstone’s Lori Shea 5-and-4 in the championship match.

ESCANABA — Paxton Johnson did it again. Just add this to the list of accomplishments for the recent Escanaba High School graduate, who just won her second straight UPLGA championship by defeating Gladstone’s Lori Shea 5-and-4 in the championship match at Escanaba Country Club here Tuesday.

Johnson, who was the only former champion in this year’s tournament, sealed the victory on hole 14 when she parred and Shea just missed a putt for par.

“It feels awesome, especially to do it on my home course,” Johnson said. “To do it in front of a lot people that you know is really nice.”

Johnson began the match strong, winning three of the first five holes with two ties in between. After the pair tied on hole 6, Shea took two of the next three holes before Johnson won four of the final five.

“I played a lot more solid today than I did yesterday (in the quarterfinals),” Johnson said. “I worked on it last night and I think I fixed what I was doing wrong. I was a lot more solid.”

When asked what she improved on, she cited her approach shots.

“Definitely my approach shots to the greens,” she said. “I hit a lot more greens than I have the past two whole years.”

On the flip side, Shea felt she wasn’t in her zone.

“I wasn’t in the zone basically,” she said. “I couldn’t get there, and once I finally got there on No. 9, I thought ‘okay, let’s get going here.’ Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get going to the green and she was already there. She capitalized on it, obviously. She’s just a tough competitor.”

Johnson and Shea each reached the finals relatively quickly after making quick work of their semifinal opponent. Johnson defeated Rapid River’s Mary Bergman 8-and-7 through 11 holes and Shea advanced past Iron Mountain’s Jean Constantini 7-and-6 through 12 holes.

Johnson said her semifinal round gave her a lot of confidence going into the championship.

“I played really solid during that round,” she said. “I had a lot of confidence going into the final round, and that really helped me.”

She also said playing against a couple locals made it extra fun.

“That was really cool,” she said. “Playing local people from around here was really fun.”

Shea’s semifinal victory earned her a trip to the finals for the first time.

“This is my first time being a finalist. I’ve been a semifinalist in the past, but this is my first time being a finalist,” she said. “The honor of that was well enough alone. I didn’t play good at all the first day, so I’m proud of myself for being able to get to the finalist round.”

Johnson — who’s also a two-time defending ECC club champ and four-time U.P. high school champion — will begin playing golf for Northern Michigan University at the end of August, making this her final home tournament.

“It’s kind of bittersweet because it’s over,” she acknowledged. “It was really nice playing here and winning just kind of made it extra (nice).”

ECC golf pro Jeff Rae felt the tournament — which was held at ECC for the first time since 2005 — went really well.

“I think the tournament went great this weekend,” he said. “It was everything I thought and more. I thought the competitiveness was great. It was kind of like I told you on Thursday, where I thought there were going to be these certain players at the top, and they grinded and they played well. There were a couple of them that got down in matches, and then came back.

“It was a really successful tournament and I’m glad we were able to host. The weather worked out great — there were a couple scares in there but the weather was great, the course was great and the players were great. If somebody asked us to do it again next year, I would do it again. It was awesome.”

He also thought Johnson winning on her home course was really cool.

“For Paxton to come out and win it on her home course, that’s really exciting,” he said. “She’s a player that comes out and doesn’t just play golf — golf is her life. I can’t imagine what she’s feeling right now because she grew up on this course. It’s got to be one of the most exciting achievements she has thus far. She’s already won it, but she won it on her home course. The gallery was huge. I think at one point I counted around 50 carts. There were probably around 100 people out there following her, so that was exciting. Lori played great. I thought from the beginning she was going to be one to watch for and look what happened — she was right there.”

The tournament moves to Pine Grove Country Club in Iron Mountain next summer.

Flight winners:

Championship — Paxton Johnson, Escanaba; Runner-up — Lori Shea, Gladstone; Consolation bracket winner — Nancy Osier, Wakefield

President’s flight — Barb Scott, Escanaba

First flight — Heidi Olson, Niagra, Wis.

Second flight — Amy Johnson, Iron River

Third flight — Deb Lordson, Gladstone