Pictou Advocate sports

Fate had other ideas for Joanne Johnson


Keep the word “domination” in mind when discussing the history of women’s play at the Abercrombie Country Club. It’s the most suitable description you’ll find in the Oxford dictionary.

No debate about it.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Nan Ross and the 19 women’s club championships she won in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. She set the precedent — a precedent that continues.

The 28 years since 1991 offer this gauge: four women have won a total of 23 club titles at the 100-year-old club.

Quite an achievement.

There was Debbie Bray who took 10 championships between 2001 and 2017. There were Michelle Buck and Julia Henderson who both took four crowns. And, in the 1990s, there was Sarah Marks’ five crowns.

They helped make Abercrombie’s history what it is.

But for now, it’s not one of those I’m thinking about. Rather, I’m remembering a gal who had enough potential to be winning events far beyond the boundaries of Pictou County and Nova Scotia.

Truthfully, I believe she could have been the best Abercrombie golfer ever. Men included. I thought she could have gone on to playing professionally. And, yes, I’m talking LPGA here.

Sadly, fate had other ideas.

All I need to do is read the headings on two of my old columns in the Advocate to be reminded how something very special can come to an end, quickly and unexpectedly.

One of the columns was headed: “Promising golf career gone awry.” The other: “What could have been for Pictou golfer Joanne Johnson.”

Yes, I’m remembering Joanne’s career that was taking her to competitions across this country and world-wide – a career that, just like that, was finished because of fate, not by her own doing.

She deserved much better.

We think of her as a Pictou native. But she wasn’t. Though her parents were from the Shiretown, Joanne was actually born in Fredericton, where her father was stationed with the army. She began playing golf at the army base in Petawawa when she was eight.

When the family returned to Pictou, she didn’t golf at first. She was busy playing baseball in the summers and ringette in the winters. She was enjoying being on sports teams with friends.

At 15, though, she decided to return to the fairways. Adding more weight than she wanted, she began exercising more. Golf became her exercise.

In 1980, she joined Abercrombie. The successes soon followed.

She was the provincial junior champ in 1981 and 1982. She captured the women’s Nova Scotia amateur crown in 1987 and 1988. A third provincial win would come in 1993. She golfed for Canada, as far away as Mexico and Australia.

From the first time I met her, she impressed me with the way she handled lengthy interviews. I was amazed at her great character off the course, amazed by what she hoped to achieve on it.

She faced her ambitions, not by bragging about what she was already accomplishing, but by entering more and more important competitions.

On one occasion, she gave me her thoughts about playing.

“I got to a point where I knew I had the ability to win. I didn’t put any pressure on myself. I just felt I had to go out there and do what had to be done. It’s like an award, I guess. It’s not the trophy that’s the award; it’s the feeling you get when you sink the putt on the 18th hole. That’s the reward, to be able to say, okay, I did it. The reward comes from within, not from outside.”

Joanne felt she was not born a winner, that none of us are. She explained there are a lot of losses, a lot of setbacks, before you can win. And she would never give up.

She was ambitious and determined.

She believed it was her desire to do well that helped her improve her game. She was always able to get over disappointments because of her positive attitude.

Was I impressed? You’re darn right I was.

Joanne’s victories, her high points, were always great to write about. But her story is much more. It’s incomplete without re-visiting the bad times.

There were too many of those.

A herniated disc in her back prevented her from playing at all in 1991 and 1992. Give it up? Not her. She was back in 1993 winning her third provincial title.

Her back problems returned, sidelining her in 1994 and 1995. Another comeback in 1996 included playing on the professional circuit, doing the Asian tour in what she said was a wonderful year.

She was optimistic and happy when 1997 began — until her back went again.

We had another interview after that. I asked her then if she ever had thoughts of making the LPGA tour. She answered truthfully, unhesitatingly.

“Yes,” she told me, “I think about it sometimes. If I didn’t have my back problems, who knows, I might have been there.”

Almost two decades passed. I hadn’t heard about her for some time. Then, one day in 2013, I was reading the paper when a headline caught my eye. I felt good when I read it: “Former champ returns in style.”

Somehow I knew who it would be. I was delighted when I read that it was about Joanne. She was playing in the provincial amateur — 20 years after her last appearance. Not only that, she was sharing the first-day lead with Abercrombie’s Julia Henderson.

I was happy for her.

When the tournament ended, she finished in second place. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t won. The good news was that she played again.

No, she wouldn’t come back to the point of pursuing that professional career. It was too late for that. But it was good to know she was out there, playing the sport she loved.

If only fate hadn’t been so cruel.