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MONDAY, JULY 9, 2007
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Hudson Johnson, a rising sophomore at Vanderbilt, fired a final-round 68 to win the Spirit of America golf tournament.
Daily photo by Michael Wetzel
Hudson Johnson, a rising sophomore at Vanderbilt, fired a final-round 68 to win the Spirit of America golf tournament.

A Commodore rallies
Vanderbilt golfer comes from behind to win Spirit by firing final-round 68

By Michael Wetzel
mwetzel@decaturdaily.com· 340-2462

After an opening-round 73 Thursday, Hudson Johnson thought a strategy change would be good for the remaining three days.

He said he decided “to become more target-oriented” and would “start going after some flags.” Three days later, he hit the bull’s eye.

The 20-year-old Texan fired a final-round 68 to leap over two other golfers and win the 40th annual Daikin America Spirit of America golf tournament at Burningtree Country Club on Sunday.

“After that first round, I was looking to get into some routine,” said the Vanderbilt sophomore, who shot a 66 Friday and 67 Saturday, which put him in third place behind Kyle Ellis and John Fox heading into Sunday’s final 18 holes.

Ellis shot a closing-round 73 to finish at 277, three shots behind Johnson’s 10-under score. Fox closed with a 77 to take home fourth-place honors.

For Ellis and Fox, it marked their worst rounds of the tournament. Finishing third at 278 was Texas Christian junior Robby Ormand.

“I figured if I hit 67 or even 68 today, I’d win it,” Johnson said.

Ellis said he opened the door of opportunity to his playing partners too early in Sunday’s round.

“I came out early and couldn’t sink it,” said Ellis, who also finished second in the 2006 Spirit tournament. “I putted awful.”

Ellis three-putted the third hole for double bogey and lost the lead to Fox.

Fox, a Tennessee Tech golfer, said he found added pressure when he saw his name atop the leaderboard.

“On No. 3, I make birdie, and Kyle doubles,” the Clinton, Tenn., native said. “I started feeling nervous and started missing the greens with my irons. I knew I needed about a 68 to get it done. But overall, I’m pleased with fourth.”

On No. 5, Ellis gave another stroke back by missing a “tap-in” for par.

Johnson, meanwhile, said it was the sixth hole he felt his game click.

He sank a 20-foot putt on the 193-yard hole to make birdie.

“I was just trying to hang around par and get some breaks,” said Johnson, an economics major.

He said a chip-in birdie on No. 10 gave him one of those breaks and added confidence.

Ellis and Fox weren’t able to right their swings before the trophies were being distributed in the Burningtree banquet room. Fox missed a 10-foot eagle putt on No. 16, and Ellis said he mis-hit a wedge on the same hole trying to stay aggressive.

Johnson put an exclamation point on his three-shot victory, sinking a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 18 in front of a gallery of about 150. He said he didn’t feel comfortable with the lead until sinking that putt.

“Ellis is solid and a strong golfer and a great competitor,” Johnson said. “I came here to compete, but sure, I wanted to win. It feels good to have my name as a winner here. It means a lot for my personal golfing career.”

Hudson Johnson, left, enjoys his Spirit of America golf tournament victory with friend and fellow Texas native Scott Roudebush before the awards ceremony at Burningtree Country Club on Sunday afternoon.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Hudson Johnson, left, enjoys his Spirit of America golf tournament victory with friend and fellow Texas native Scott Roudebush before the awards ceremony at Burningtree Country Club on Sunday afternoon.
Johnson was eager to call his college roommate, Vanderbilt football punter Brett Upson.

“He’ll be jealous,” Johnson said. “He’s a scratch golfer. He’s been following me this summer.”

The win also earned Johnson a spot in the NGA Hooters Professional Tour event on the Dancing Rabbit Azaleas Course in Choctaw, Miss., in August.

Ellis said he got that sickening feeling in his stomach when Johnson scrambled for par on No. 9 and chipped in on No. 10 for birdie.

“I knew it was going to be hard to catch him,” Ellis said. “Hudson played a hell of a round, and my hat’s off to him. I got second again and I felt like I played better golf this year to finish there. It was definitely a tougher field. Just look around and see all of the SEC players here.”

Ellis said this may be his last Spirit. He plans to join the pro ranks in May. Ellis shared medalist honors with other first-day leaders Chris Wells of Baton Rouge, La., Jason Judy of Gibsonville, N.C., and Brent Paul of Midland, Ga.

Paul, a 17-year-old headed to Georgia State to play golf, won the Bradley Johnson Memorial Junior Trophy for being the low scoring junior. Bradley’s father, Hugh Johnson of Birmingham and 1974 graduate of Austin High, presented the award. Paul’s 286 total tied him for 13th overall.

Tying for 44th, Casey Thomas of Decatur was the low Burningtree finisher.

Spirit highlights

The winner: Hudson Johnson, a 20-year-old from Longview, Texas, shot a 3-under 68 to win the tournament by three strokes. He will begin his second year at Vanderbilt in the fall.

Runner-up: Kyle Ellis, a 23-year-old from Senatobia, Miss., shot 73 Sunday to finish with a 7-under par 277. He finished second in 2006 with a 281. He will be a senior at Ole Miss.

Top local finisher: Stewart Whitt of Athens tied for 10th with a 285. He plays golf at Alabama.

Michael Wetzel

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