Other Sports

That frozen turkey was nice, but Johnson Wagner poised for real gravy at Quail Hollow

“Near the lead, playing late Saturday in my home tournament, I couldn’t be happier,” Johnson Wagner said after rounds of 67-71 gave him his best start ever at Quail Hollow Club. Johnson has been a member at Quail Hollow, site of this week’s 2018 Wells Fargo Championship, for more than a decade.
“Near the lead, playing late Saturday in my home tournament, I couldn’t be happier,” Johnson Wagner said after rounds of 67-71 gave him his best start ever at Quail Hollow Club. Johnson has been a member at Quail Hollow, site of this week’s 2018 Wells Fargo Championship, for more than a decade. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Johnson Wagner, a member of Quail Hollow Club for more than a decade, has a simple goal.

He wants to see his name written in gold script on one of the large, dark wood boards mounted on the locker room walls, telling the story of club champions in various events through the years.

The biggest event Wagner has won at his home course is a frozen turkey, a coveted prize at a pre-Thanksgiving shootout that doesn’t offer the same payout as the Wells Fargo Championship but comes with a measure of pride, stirred in with the November frivolity.

Sitting just off the lead midway through the Wells Fargo Championship, Wagner is already booked next weekend, hosting his father-in-law in Quail Hollow’s annual member-guest event – another chance at putting his name on the locker room wall – unless he plays himself into the Players Championship next weekend by winning here on Sunday afternoon.

“Near the lead, playing late Saturday in my home tournament, I couldn’t be happier,” Wagner said after rounds of 67-71 gave him his best start ever at Quail Hollow.

In fact, Thursday was just the second time in 12 career starts at the Wells Fargo Championship that he has broken 70 before the weekend. It’s also the sixth time Wagner has made the cut at home.

“I find myself really nervous starting the week here,” Wagner said. “(Thursday) calmed the nerves pretty quickly going birdie, eagle, eagle. I found myself in the hunt immediately. It settled everything down and I felt like I had a leg up. It’s really fun playing in front of the home crowd. I’ve seen tons of people I haven’t seen in a while.”

Wagner, 38, has been on the PGA Tour since 2007 and has three career victories, but the most recent one came in 2012. He’s built a solid career, but Wagner slipped last year, finishing 140th in FedEx points, which allowed him to keep his PGA Tour status but means his schedule is determined by events that aren’t filled by players with a higher priority than he has. He will get plenty of starts, but Wagner knows he needs to make the most of his opportunities.

WELLSFARGO0504_24
Recent results suggest Johnson Wagner is trending in the right direction. He’s focused his practice time on improving his iron play and his short game, areas where he was losing strokes. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Prior to the two-man team event at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last week, Wagner had made four straight cuts. He tied for 20th at the Valero Texas Open but failed to finish among the top 50 in the other three events.

The results suggest Wagner is trending in the right direction. He’s focused his practice time on improving his iron play and his short game, areas where he was losing strokes. It remains a work in progress, but Wagner is understandably optimistic.

“My game is sharp. I’ve been rededicating myself the last few weeks,” Wagner said.

Wagner has reunited with his long-time caddie Matt Hauser after a brief split. They worked together for eight years and when Wagner found himself outside the top 125, he encouraged Hauser to accept an offer to caddie for Brandt Snedeker. As sometimes happens, the Snedeker-Hauser pairing didn’t spark. When Snedeker decided to find another caddie, Wagner and Hauser reconnected.

“We were together for eight years and I feel great,” Wagner said. “I feel like I’ve got a second lease on the end of my career. I’m really looking forward to working hard and winning again at some point.

“I was pretty happy when they split up and he came back to me.”

Wagner thrust himself into the storyline Thursday when, starting on the back nine, he birdied the par-3 13th, then pitched in for eagles at the short par-4 14th and the par-5 15th, only the second time a player made consecutive eagles on the PGA Tour this year. Suddenly, Wagner was 5-under par and looking for more. It became more difficult from there, but the rocket start propelled Wagner into contention.

The only downside was it made him late for his son’s baseball game, arriving in time to see the final inning of a one-run loss. Otherwise, the weekend sets up beautifully for Wagner.

And next weekend looks pretty good, too.

Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post and an occasional contributor to the Observer. He can be reached at rongreenjr@gmail.com.

  Comments