Respected golf writer embarks on new career phase

Greg Johnson

In a distinguished career that’s still a work in progress, award-winning sports journalist and golf writer Greg Johnson filed his final stories this past week for The Grand Rapids Press. As the case with many of his colleagues over the past few years, Johnson’s position was eliminated as the 120-year-old newspaper drastically downsized its operations in the new digital age. Although the ending was both sobering and bittersweet, Johnson harbored no regrets and remained upbeat about his future.

“I loved my job and loved being a sportswriter,” said Johnson in a phone interview from Tampa where he covered Michigan State’s dramatic bowl win over Georgia. “Now entering a different phase in my career, I’ll be taking the time to investigate some of the interesting opportunities presented to me. But even if I do something completely different, I still want to write.”

Thank goodness for that last remark because Greg Johnson is a gifted writer with a large and loyal following of appreciative readers, especially golfers. For over 25 years, he’s covered golf for The Press and made sure champions of local events received their fair share of acclaim in the newspaper. “Honestly, I had as much fun covering golfers such as Bob Sakocius and Tom Werkmeister at the West Michigan Amateur as I did going to the Buick Open and watching Tiger Woods,” said Johnson. “At local events it was so easy to get around and besides they gave me a cart,” he said laughing.

Although assigned to everything “from the Atlanta Olympics to a bocce ball tournament in downtown Grand Rapids,” Johnson says golf always had a special appeal. “I liked being around golf because of the people. There are good people in every sport but it’s something about the game—the decorum, the etiquette, the traditions—that separates golfers from the rest,” said Johnson.

According to Johnson, the Masters Tournament is also something separate and extra special. “Covering it is both a joy and a grind. It’s an amazing and beautiful place but the demands and stress of getting the stories right at Augusta are difficult for outsiders to understand,” said Johnson. “I liked how Dan Jenkins described being at the Masters as an ‘Alice in Wonderland-type experience.’”

Even when he was far from home at such storied and lush venues as Augusta National, Johnson never lost his perspective as a local newspaper reporter. He invariably found a Grand Rapids angle for one of his sidebars or notebooks during Masters week. Over the years, he mentioned Mark Wilson, a local PGA golf professional who served as a rules official at the Masters, as well as notes about a host of other West Michigan golfers who found themselves inside the hallowed grounds past Magnolia Lane. “Early on I understood that I was very lucky to be the readers’ representative and so it was my job to see the tournament through their eyes. It wasn’t difficult to find local angles at the Masters; you just had to be open to them,” said Johnson. “And often the best stories found me.”

On one occasion, a memorable story took root after Johnson learned a former Grand Rapids resident attending the Masters planned to honor his recently deceased best friend by tossing a symbolic memento into the famed pond at Augusta’s 16th hole. I vividly recall how Johnson and the individual spoke for hours about his late friend and all the Masters had meant to him. Sharing the same rental home that year, I also know Johnson was up writing until the wee hours of the night, making sure the story reflected the poignant truth, the undying friendship and the muffled grief of the day. Like the best writing, it was crisp and lean, universal and touched the heart.

“I’ve been fortunate to have learn so much from so many sportswriters,” said Johnson. “When I first started covering golf, Jack Saylor from the Detroit Free Press told me not to worry about my own golf skills. He quipped, ‘Heck, you don’t have to be dead to write a good obituary. Just observe the events, ask the right questions and write it down as you know it.’”

Greg Johnson listened well to his mentors and colleagues as he acutely observed sport’s many arenas, asked the right questions, and then ably wrote it all down as he knew it.  How fortunate are we, the readers, to have accompanied him on his journey.

But heck, this is sounding like an obituary. In the here and now, Johnson’s impressive career is merely taking a detour.

Greg, see you around the bend.





9 Responses to “Respected golf writer embarks on new career phase”

  1. Dave Tanis

    I always appreciated your work Greg. Best wishes on the next steps in your career.

  2. Deb Moore

    Great story about a great guy! Best of luck in the future, Greg.

  3. Mike Malaney

    Greg, Your best story was the one about Payne Stewart in the
    restaurant in San Francisco when he walked by and thanked you for not
    telling the girls behind you who he was, when they were talking
    about him.

    Good luck to you.

  4. Doug Nietering

    Best wishes in your new ventures. Always enjoyed your articles and the persoanl touch that you had.

  5. Mike Nichols

    Greg is one of the best. He was constantly digging for the underlying story, but was always fair in the end. Most importantly, nearly ten years removed from the last time I’ve worked with him, I still consider him a close friend. Best of luck, Greg – and a fitting tribute, Terry.

  6. Ken Kolker

    Greg is not only a great and prolific writer, he’s a class act. I always loved working with him. He’s the kind of guy who looks you in the eyes and really listens. Not a drop of ego. Good luck in whatever is around the corner for you.

  7. Jane Bos

    Greggie, no doubt, is the best writer, co-worker and friend — and the best driver-in-bad-weather — you could find. He’s one of a kind. Honest, funny, kind, generous… When were you with Greggie that he didn’t you laugh? Hysterically? For hours? He also worked harder at his job than anyone pozsibly could. He care so much. His passion for what he did made him so well loved around West Michigan and the entire state. He went above and beyond so often, no one else can see his summit. Many of us mourn his leaving The Press (there is no way his experience knowledge can be replaced) but many of us are grateful that his friendship will go on forever.

    Thanks, Terry, for writing this wonderful tribute. Greggie deserves it.

    You are free to do what you want….

  8. Peter Pavlovich

    I am going to miss all of Greg’s insight into the Spartans. GRP gave away one of the very best to say the least! Greg, if you are reading this please make certain to let us know where you will be working and I sure would like your opinion about Spartan Football this upcoming 2012 season!

    All the best,


  9. Rip

    From that first assignment at OK White conference meet, you’ve been the best there is in Sports writing. You are the best man. Love ya so much. Rip

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