U.S. Women’s Open notebook: medical condition forces Johnson to withdraw

Posted: July 6, 2015 8:24 pm

It’s been a brutal 2015 for Jennifer Johnson, a California pro who has fans locally because of her association with Lebanon Country Club.

The reasons have become increasingly clear over the past few days.

Johnson withdrew from the U.S. Women’s Open due to a mysterious medical condition knows as TMJ, or dislocation of the Temporomandibular Joint.

The TMJ joint is just in front of the lower ear, and allows the jaw to open and close. When it becomes loose, dislocation can lead to problems with equilibrium and balance, migraine headaches and other issues that, obviously, are not conducive to golf.

“She’s had those sort of problems all year,” Mike Swisher, pro emeritus at Lebanon C.C. and Johnson’s swing coach, said Monday. “Now, knowing this, you have to figure it had a lot to do with her golf.”

Johnson reached the final of the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2009, won an LPGA event in 2013 and barely missed making that year’s U.S. team for the biannual Solheim Cup. This year, her best finish has been a tie for 30th, and she has missed six cuts in 14 events.

It seemed to be turning around two weeks back, when Johnson shot 68 and 67 in the first two rounds of the 54-hole Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship to push herself into contention. But down the stretch of the second round, the TMJ apparently dislocated, creating a painful lockjaw-like effect.

Johnson shot a disastrous 83 Sunday in Arkansas, and finished dead last among players who survived the cut.

“When I saw that, I figured either she was sick or something was wrong physically,” Swisher said. “When I’ve been with her lately, she’s just hit the kind of shots she doesn’t normally hit.”

Johnson was in the area the past few days, saw a specialist in Reading Monday and intended to play in the Open until Monday afternoon.

Johnson will be replaced in the Open field by Mallory Blackwelder, daughter of former LPGA pro Myra Blackwelder, who was the first alternate from section qualifying at Superstition Mountain, Ariz.

The risk/reward element: The 16th hole at L.C.C. is a bunker-laden, dogleg left par-4 that’s about 350 yards from the longest tee the U.S.G.A. plans to use this week. There is also a far-forward tee box – normally a senior or “family,” tee for the members – from which it’s only about 240 yards to a bunker that guards the front-left of the green, a distance from which much of the field would be able to fire at the green with a driver.

Todd Bidlespacher, L.C.C.’s Director of Golf Course Operations, said last week his crew slightly enlarged that tee months ago, just in case the U.S.G.A. wanted to create a dramatic risk/reward element on one of the final holes of an Open round. Imagine a long hitter coming to 16 Sunday a shot or two out of the lead, with the possibility of an eagle putt and a tantalizing decision to make ….

Details of day-to-day course setup are kept secret by the U.S.G.A., but most groups playing practice rounds did hit shots from both the back and front tees Monday.

IT’S A MOB SCENE: Monday’s crowds at Lancaster Country Club – for practice rounds three days before the event even starts – appeared to be roughly equal to, say, a Thursday, or first-round, crowd at a normal weekly LPGA tour event. At a press conference Monday, United States Golf Association Championship Director Matt Sawicki predicted crowds in excess of 20,00 for the weekend.

Michael Whan, commissioner of the LPGA, went beyond that.

“You’re going to see probably the most fans you’ve seen at a major in a lot of years,” Whan told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Joe Juliano. “I think we’re going to have an incredible hometown and 100-mile surrounding area calling. Quite frankly, we love that at the LPGA. That’s exciting for the players to play in.”