By Adam Nazzaro
Metrowest Daily News
It all started in the backyard for Matt Johnson (Sudbury, Mass./Lincoln-Sudbury Regional).
The Sudbury native would hit golf balls with his plastic golf clubs at a young age and his grandparents would help "chase" the balls.
Since then, the 2016 Lincoln-Sudbury graduate has made his mark away from the backyard and on to the golf course.
Now, a junior on the Saint Michael's College golf team in Colchester, Vermont, Johnson no longer uses plastic clubs.
On April 26, he became the first men's golfer in the history of Saint Michael's College to earn a selection to the NCAA Division II Championship.
"It hasn't sunken in yet," Johnson said. "It's such an honor and an accomplishment. It speaks volumes to the steps we've made as a program the past couple of years."
Johnson is one of eight individual picks, along with 20 teams, who will compete at the NCAA Atlantic/East Regional Championship at Totteridge Golf Course in Greensburg, P.A. from May 9 to May 11.
Johnson has already put together a memorable season, averaging 74.29 strokes per round while claiming five top-10 finishes during invitational's. He also added a fourth-place showing in stroke play in a match against Franklin Pierce in September.
According to St. Michael's Athletics, Johnson has shot in the 70s in 12 of his 14 rounds, matching his career low of 70 on two occasions. A six-time honoree on the Northeast-10 Conference Weekly Honor Roll, Johnson's scoring average is exactly three strokes better than his figure (77.29) during his sophomore year, which was the lowest by a Purple Knight in at least 12 seasons.
"It feels incredible to be a part of this group," Johnson said on being a part of the golf program. "Jason (Bedard) has been the coach here for four years. Where he's been able to take this program in such little time really speaks about his dedication for the program."
Johnson, a 2016 Daily News All-Star for golf, played for former L-S golf coach Jon Murch.
"Coach (Jon) Murch really helped me with the mental aspect of the game," Johnson said. "Back in high school, I would sometimes let my temper get the best of me. John taught me how to stay in the moment and to focus on the shot at hand."
"It's incredibly satisfying to see a kid like Matt qualify for the NCAA championships. Matt grew a great deal from his beginnings on the L-S team as a freshman," Murch said. "He willed himself – with determination and hard work – into being a top notch high school player and it's so good to see he's continuing his success at the college level. I can't say that I am surprised in any way that his game has grown like this."
When Johnson stepped on the St. Michael's campus as a freshman, the golf team was inexperienced.
"Coming into this program as a freshman, this team was very young," Johnson said. "There was no true direction. We all had to work together and really try hard at getting better to get to where we are at. We have four graduating seniors this year who did a lot to help lead us this season."
You might ask, how does one prepare for a golf season while living in upstate Vermont throughout the longevity of a cold winter? Easy enough, Johnson and company find many ways around the conditions.
"In the offseason we're inside working on our game on the golf simulator, getting as many swings as we can," Johnson said. "We've been working out in the weight room as a team over the course of the year and it's been paying off. By the time the snow melts and the courses are good to go, we are ready to roll."
In the summer, when Johnson is back in the Sudbury area, he works on his game at Charter Oak Country Club in Hudson. He also takes lessons with golf performance coach Daniel Boisvert at KOHR Golf Academy in Natick.
No matter what happens in the NCAA Division II Championships, Johnson plans to continue to extend his golf career.
"I'm looking to take this ride as far as I can," Johnson said. "If I play my game and stay calm, I believe things can go well. I've been working on improving my game in every tournament and this task is no different."