Esky’s Johnson to golf at NMU

Escanaba's Paxton Johnson chips to the green while caddie Jeff VanHolla looks on during the 2018 UP Ladies Golf Association Championships at Norway's Oak Crest Golf Course. The Escanaba High School senior will play at Northern Michigan University. (Burt Angeli/The Daily News)

ESCANABA — Paxton Johnson is ready to take on the next level in her blossoming golf career.

She signed scholarship papers Tuesday to pursue a college career at Northern Michigan University.

The Escanaba High School senior said academics was a primary factor in her decision.

“It is a very good school and I’m going to major in biochemics, and the golf team is good,” she said. “The offer they gave me I couldn’t pass up. I toured there and just knew I wanted to go there.”

Johnson, who had also looked into Central Michigan University and Oakland University, did not want to go south for school or golf, even though the weather conditions are somewhat kinder.

“I wanted to stay mostly in the midwest,” she said, admitting the thought of getting further away from home was intriguing. “Here academics are number one, down south it is more (for) athletics than academics. I want to focus more on school.”

Johnson has established excellent credentials the past several years, akin to those by similarly accomplished Marquette golfers Carley Saint-Onge and Avery Rochester.

Johnson is a three-time Upper Peninsula Division 1 high school golf champion and last summer won her first Upper Peninsula Ladies Golf Association crown.

Saint-Onge (2011) and Rochester (2012 and 2013) are the only other girls to win UP high school and UPLGA titles in the same year.

Johnson, who has a very competitive nature on the course, said “I always wanted to play golf in college.”

While she has always been serious about the game, it rose to another level as she started winning tournaments.

“I kept pushing myself. I wanted to play golf beyond high school. There was a point (then) where I took it more seriously,” she said.

A left-handed golfer, Johnson has exhibited excellent distance and accuracy off the tee and has a nice touch on her approach shots. Buoyed by that talent, she has taken her game to tournaments downstate, where she has been able to work on her competitive groove while playing tougher opponents.

“That increases my competitive edge,” she said. “Golf is more of an individual thing. It is very challenging but it is also very rewarding when you do succeed. Then you know your hard work and motivation is behind it.”

She said expanding her golf horizons by playing downstate “kind of motivated me to do more.”

Johnson approaches each competitive round as a challenge to beat herself and not worry about her opponents.

“I try to beat myself. There is never a perfect round,” she said with a smile.

She said playing someone who is better “really drives me. You are always competing against yourself.”

Her immediate goal entering her final prep season is to win her fourth straight high school title and help the Eskymos to their fourth straight team crown. She would also like to defend her UPLGA title, with that tourney at her home course, Escanaba Country Club.

She lives by the fourth green and, in addition to working in the pro shop, plays there frequently. She is the reigning women’s club champion as well.