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Carolina Panthers’ Charles Johnson loving his new hobby: golf

Carolina Panthers' Charles Johnson talks defense

Carolina Panthers' Charles Johnson talks about the team's improving defense
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Carolina Panthers' Charles Johnson talks about the team's improving defense

We know what Charles Johnson can do on a football field. This season will be his ninth as a defensive end for the Carolina Panthers. Until Sunday we knew little about what Johnson could do on a golf course.

What can he do?

Johnson says he hit a 330-yard drive at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club.

For perspective let’s go to Dustin Johnson, no relation, who leads the PGA Tour with an average drive of 318 yards. Dustin is 6-foot-4, two inches taller than Charles. But Charles weighs 282 pounds, 92 more than Dustin.

Is the sport ready for an almost 300 pound golfer?

“No,” says Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera.

The man drove a ball 330 yards.

“Yeah,” says Rivera. “The problem is where it’s going. Let’s be honest. I can hit the ball 330 yards, too. But it’s probably not going where I want it to.”

If Johnson can consistently get this weight behind his drives, could there be a career chasing birdies when he stops chasing quarterbacks?

Not until he can consistently break 100. But he’s been playing only seven months.

“That’s pretty good,” Johnson, 29, says about hovering around the 100 mark.

Johnson, incidentally, left practice early Sunday afternoon on a cart. But the injury apparently did not occur Sunday.

“As far as I know, he strained a calf in a workout the other night,” Rivera says.

Before practice Sunday Johnson talked during a group interview about the usual subject, football. After the interview Johnson, wearing a cap with an H, a testament to his home town, Hawkinsville, Ga., was asked about Augusta National Golf Club, where he played a round this spring.

The first time Johnson played 18 holes was at Augusta National. Think of the pressure – a new golfer and a professional athlete plays his first 18 holes at the most prestigious course in the U.S.

Augusta National does not allow a golfer to ease in. The first hole is a 445-yard par four, with a nasty little dogleg and undulating greens. Johnson calmly walked to the tee and birdied it.

For perspective, let’s go to Jordan Spieth, who at Augusta National four months ago won the Masters. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday Spieth shot par on No. 1. It wasn’t until Sunday that Spieth had a birdie. Spieth needed four days to replicate what Johnson did in his first try.

How’d you do the next 17 holes?

“Horrible,” says Johnson. “I stink. I really stunk it up.”

What enticed you to play golf for the first time at the age of 29?

“My business partners would go meet with guys we were doing business with and play golf, and I’d go and party somewhere,” says Johnson. “And then eventually I got out there and started hanging out with them and I liked it. Plus there’s a lot of good marketing out there on the golf course. And I didn’t know that at first, but there is, and I kind of stuck with it.”

Johnson says he took a few lessons at Quail Hollow Club.

Also, he has a deal with Nike, so he even when his game doesn’t look good, he does.

He plans to play during the season when he gets a break.

“I don’t want my game to get worse,” Johnson says.

“I want to travel and go to like the big courses overseas, like Scotland.”

Rivera encourages Johnson’s interest, and says golf offers an escape.

Says Rivera: “He and I talked about it and I told him, ‘Now you know this is a gentleman’s game, it’s about dressing properly, it’s about controlling your language and excitement, you can’t go around high-fiving people.’ He said, ‘Come on coach, we have a little bit of fun with it.’

“He’s really taken to the game and the game’s taken to him,” says Rivera. “You have to get him to tell you the story about when he met Jack Nicklaus.”

I’ll ask about Nicklaus the next time I see him.

There’s another story I’d like to hear, a story that a man who was with him at the time swears is true.

Johnson was on the driving range at the Old North State course in New London. Johnson would put the ball on the tee and walk backward. He’d take a running start, ala Happy Gilmore, and smack a line drive that would be a home run in most ballparks.

Is the sport ready for an almost 300-pound golfer?

Yes it is. 

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