Jack Johnson was elevated to the Chaska varsity boys golf team late in his eighth grade season. A year later, he was at Augusta National, home of the Masters, a 2017 finalist in the Drive, Chip & Putt competition. No sweat after the first career highlight, right?
"hat was the most exposure I had got at a young of age. I really hadn't played in a lot of tournaments that big. I just tried to absorb it all. I had so much running through my mind at state," Johnson said.
"I knew I could play with those guys, so it wasn't that. It all just happened so fast. One day I was on JV, the next varsity, the next state," he added.
Johnson, four-over par at sections to qualify for state along with teammate Clay Kucera, finished 73rd in his Bunker Hills debut. His two rounds were played in 78 and 77 strokes, respectively. The first nine holes of state competition showed him one over-par.
It was only the start for Johnson.
After missing state as a freshman and sophomore -- Section 2AAA was so tough in 2018 that future Gopher Lincoln Johnson and one of the MIAC's top golfers this past spring, Jacob Pedersen of Minnetonka, neither qualified as well -- Johnson put together his most impressive 36 holes of post-season golf last spring.
Two-under par through 18 holes, Johnson, on a day in which only eight of 43 players bested their first-round score, followed his 70 with a one-under 71 to return to state.
His second state appearance resulted in a tie for 30th place carding 78 and 76 for a 10-over par score of 154.
A two-year captain, a 4.0 grade-point average student, the Metro West Conference scoring champion as a junior (scoring average of 73), the 2020 season was supposed to be Johnson's year.
"The exciting thing for me this year is that we had such a good shot at three or four guys winning the individual (section) championship, and we had a great shot for our team to qualify for state. I believe it would have been us and Minnetonka. When the rankings would have come out, we'd be No. 1 and 2, going back and forth. We would have fought it down in sections. It's such a bummer. We have so many good teams in our sections. So many deserving teams," Johnson said.
The disappointment is less for Johnson, knowing he has four years of golf in college remaining. He will play collegiately at North Dakota State University.
Chaska head boys golf coach Jeff Rydland said Johnson "will be a great college golfer because he has a strong mental game."
Honestly, NDSU wasn't really on my radar until maybe summer or fall of my junior year when I had reached out to their coach. I had played with one of their freshman and he was telling me great things. I reached out to Coach (Steve) Kennedy; a great guy. He was so welcoming. I remember going up there with my dad and we were overwhelmed by the facilities. I loved everything about it. I want to get into engineering and they have a great program for that," Johnson said.
Boede Guza and Johnson spent summers together playing on the triple-A baseball teams in Chaska. There was a rule in the Johnson household. No golf until the baseball season.
There was always August and September for golf. Then it was more. After the Cooperstown trip as 12-year-olds, Johnson turned in the baseball for a golf ball. Guza followed his friend after one more summer on the diamond.
Decisions that led Johnson to Fargo, North Dakota, and Guza right across the border in Crookston.
"I was in a tournament with Jack, and I had no clue this guy was there watching me. I thought he was there for Jack. I didn't think anything of it. After my round, he comes up to me, introduces himself, asked if I had noticed him. Coach (Brad) Heppner and I clicked," Guza said. "He wants to rebuild the program. The new guys he has recruited have done really well for the program. I visited, met some guys, and it felt like the right place for me," Guza said.
All along, Guza wanted to stay closer to home, attend a smaller university, and Crookston fit, including an elementary education major.
Guza, a member of the Chaska golf program for five years, was fourth in the Metro West Conference individual scoring list in 2019. He was a captain this season.
"A golf rat who loves to play the game," Rydland said of Guza. "He had a great off-season and is ready for college golf."
Teammates with Kucera, Dawson Wills, Lincoln Johnson, all successful golfers after high school, showed Guza the path.
"It was such a motivation factor, watching those guys play. I had never thought of the whole playing in college until I saw what those guys did, and where they ended up. I just kept working, trying to be like them," Guza said.
Guza's best high school round came at sections in 2019, a first-day score of 73.
His best, though, was yet to come.
"This winter I really worked hard. I was working on some things with my coach, really dialing in my game. My first couple of rounds out, I could really see some positive things. It's tough, the whole senior year, I really wanted to have a season. We were at captain's practices and I look at the team, and we had so much promise. Seeing all these guys -- Garrett Pritchard, Josh Esterley, Luke Donahue -- work so hard. It's disappointing," Guza said.
"I just want to start off by thanking the families and coaches involved for putting time into everything us golfers do. I want to thank the guys who accepted me onto the team as an eighth grader and motivated me to grind and become who I am today. It’s going to be hard splitting up us three seniors," Guza added on Twitter.
Chaska remains the six-time Metro West Conference championship team.
Rydland was expecting big things from another senior, Donahue, who cracked the varsity line-up a few times in 2019.
"He really loves the game. He has really improved each year, worked extra hard this off-season to challenge the young kids for a varsity spot this year. He put in a lot of time at Braemar Dome this winter. Swing was looking great," the coach said.
"When I joined the team as an eighth grader, I was new to the game. Little did I know this game would create relationships that will last a lifetime. To my fellow seniors, Jack and Boede, I know this isn’t how we wanted your high school careers to end, but I am glad to have been able to go through this journey together. I’m excited for the individual journeys that each of us are embarking on next year. I’m glad to call you my brothers," Donahue said.