Lincoln Johnson has the potential to become Minnesota’s next great golfer

The freshman’s college career is off to a fast start.

Freshman Lincoln Johnson plays during the Gopher Invitational on Sunday, Sept. 9 at Windsong Farm Golf Club in Maple Plain, Minnesota.

Courtney Deutz

Freshman Lincoln Johnson plays during the Gopher Invitational on Sunday, Sept. 9 at Windsong Farm Golf Club in Maple Plain, Minnesota.

Nick Jungheim

The expectations were high from the moment Lincoln Johnson set foot on campus. The Chaska, Minnesota native was one of Minnesota’s top golf recruits coming out of high school, earning all-state recognition in 2017 and a fourth-place finish at the Class AAA state tournament. 

So far, Johnson has proven he’s as good as advertised. Through three tournaments, he was tied for second on the team with a stroke average of 72.44. If Johnson can continue that pace, he would become the third consecutive Gophers freshman to have a stroke average below 74, joining current teammates junior Thomas Longbella and sophomore Angus Flanagan.

The highlight of his season so far came in the first-round of the Maui Jim Intercollegiate. To begin his first college tournament held outside of Minnesota, Johnson fired a 65, becoming only the 17th Gopher golfer to shoot a round of 65 or lower in a round. Another member of that list is Johnson’s current coach, Justin Smith.

“We know he can go shoot those scores,” Smith said. “It’s our job to put him in the best position to succeed and do it more and more.”

Johnson, however, is becoming used to shooting rounds well under-par — in fact, it was the second time this calendar year he shot a 65 in a tournament. In the spring, while still a senior at Chaska High School, Johnson shot a 65 during a high school tournament at the Chaska Town Course.  

“They both felt pretty special,” Johnson said. “The 65 in college was probably a little bit more special to me because it was a bigger stage and the course was playing a lot harder.”

At the Marquette intercollegiate, Johnson faced his first real adversity of the year. Through two rounds, he sat nine-over-par. Then, to begin day three, he shot a nine his first hole of the day, a par-five. However, he then rebounded, stinging together a run of four consecutive birdies between holes 12 and 15, completing the day with a 73 (+1), his best round of the tournament.

Johnson’s resiliency, hard-work and impressive play have earned the respect of Minnesota’s upperclassmen, such as senior Peter Jones.

“[Johnson] has a really great head on his shoulders when it comes to playing golf courses,” Jones said. “He knows what his strengths are, and he’s really honed in on those this season. He knows he hits it farther than most people and he knows how to play his shot. That’s showed in the tournaments we’ve played so far.”

In recruiting, coach Smith and director of men’s golf John Carlson have made recruiting the best in-state talent a priority in their program. From the very beginning they let Johnson know he belonged at Minnesota. 

“They kept telling me they wanted me to want to come here and represent my state,” Johnson said. “That’s one thing I had in my mind when I was going through recruiting, representing your home state at the college level is a really cool thing.”

When that time comes, the program could look very different, thanks in large part to the new indoor practice facility set to open on St. Paul campus this winter. Minnesota used the new facility as a key selling point to Johnson, who along with his fellow freshman will become the first class to receive the full benefits of the complex.  

“I’m really excited about having that,” Johnson said of the facility. “We’ve lacked a little bit in that area for indoor facilities during the winter time. Having this is going to lead to a lot more opportunities to get better during the winter.”

Johnson and the Gophers have one more tournament scheduled for their fall season, the Royal Oaks Intercollegiate in Dallas. After that, they will have until February to break in their new facility and prepare for Spring.