For Javan Johnson, the dream to play collegiate golf was born in the sixth grade when he first took up the game. Fast-forward to 2023, Johnson is a redshirt senior and one of the most impactful players in Taylor men’s golf history.
Scaling his way across the junior golf landscape, Johnson credited his swing coach, Scott Downing, with his ability to maneuver the golf ball and keep the game enjoyable.
Taylor was on Johnson’s radar as early as his sophomore year of high school, but only because of his experience on a visit. During his junior year, Cameron Andry — former head coach now leading women’s golf at Ball State University — watched Johnson compete in Noblesville, Indiana.
A couple months later, Johnson played another tournament, this time at Taylor’s home course, The Players Club at Woodland Trails. Andry offered him a spot on the team, and once the offer was on the table, Johnson was fully committed to being a Trojan.
Because of ACL surgery in May 2018, Johnson was sidelined for the fall of his freshman year. However, Andry attributed Johnson’s eventual team leadership to using that time to learn from seniors like Alec Dutkowski and Jeremy Ray. His talent or work ethic was never in question, and Johnson was thrust into the spotlight due to a lack of upperclassmen the following year.
“He does just care about people,” Andry said. “He can be hard on people because he wants them to reach their potential … He spent as much time watching other people hit balls on the range as anybody.”
In a sophomore season shortened due to COVID-19, Johnson managed a 73.92 scoring average and finished 87th in the NAIA GolfStat National Head-to-Head rankings. This was only scratching the surface, for Johnson tallied two individual wins, All-Crossroads League and NAIA 2nd Team All-American honors when his junior campaign was in the history books.
The 2021-22 golf season would provide a second consecutive All-Crossroads League nod and nine top-10 finishes in 13 tournament starts.
However, Johnson’s continued, high-level performance was all but guaranteed. At the Trojan’s final fall event of 2021 at Chariot Run Golf Club, Johnson withdrew during the second day of competition.
“Golf was like the only thing I felt I could control at times, and just got to a bad place,” Johnson said.
After multiple conversations with Andry, Johnson went home for about a week to address the psychological hurdles he was facing, which manifested themselves on the course but extended well beyond the fairways. Almost exactly a year later, Taylor returned to Chariot Run and Johnson posted two 71s to capture the tournament win in a playoff over his teammate Adam Kasitz.
“Being able to persevere through the bad times and then come back stronger, and then obviously have the year I’m having this year has been really cool,” Johnson said.
Returning for a fifth year at Taylor was without doubt for Johnson who has had a career-season in every way. In 12 events, Johnson has stockpiled six victories, an unadjusted scoring average of 72.81 and currently sits at 24th in the NAIA GolfStat National Head-to-Head rankings. On April 18 at the Ackerman-Allen Shootout, Johnson fired a first-round score of 66, which tied his career-low.
Following this performance, Johnson earned Crossroads League Golfer-of-the-Week and NAIA National Golfer-of-the-Week.
Lorne Oke, nearing the end of his first year as head coach of both the Trojan men’s and women’s golf programs, knew of Johnson’s prowess as an assistant coach for Indiana Wesleyan University’s golf programs. From the first day of his tenure at Taylor, Oke said he recognized Johnson’s outstanding knowledge base in the game and patience about his practice.
“Seniors don’t tend to get better,” Oke said. “But Javan sincerely wants to be better, both as a person and as a player. That’s been really fun for me and something I really appreciate is the opportunity to see that.”
Fellow graduating senior Noah Ross, who has had quite the season himself with one victory and five runner-up finishes, pinned Johnson as his swing coach over the past three years and the fiercest competitor he has ever met. Johnson’s success, however, has acted like a double-edged sword on his end.
“Everyone’s been telling me, ‘Oh, if Javan weren’t on the team you’d have so many more wins,’” Ross said. “Actually, if Javan weren’t on the team, I wouldn’t be playing in the top-five (on the team). The only reason I’m competing with him is because he’s pushed me.”
Over Ross’ four years, he has spent the most time with Johnson out of all his teammates, past or present, and appreciates Johnson’s presence and willingness to listen through his mountaintop and valley moments. As a co-captain with Johnson this season, Ross said it has been a blessing to have Johnson’s honesty as a bedrock for leadership on the team.
With the conference tournament in the rearview mirror, Johnson and the rest of the Trojans have their eyes set on the 2023 NAIA National Championships at Las Sendas Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona. Johnson said the team has yet to all click at the same time and there is no reason their best golf cannot arise when needed most.
Andry, who coached Taylor when nationals were last hosted at Las Sendas, said he wants Johnson to enjoy the stage more than anything else. As an onlooker this time around, Andry hopes Johnson can capitalize on some unfinished business for Taylor men’s golf, with Dutkowski finishing runner-up in 2019.
“Yeah, I think the extra year was definitely worth it,” Johnson said. “I’ve had so much fun this year and these are five years that are the best time of your life and you can’t get them back.”