Woodworth struggles through last five holes, falls in final

Burt Angeli/Daily News (Iron Mountain) Zoe Woodworth of Lake Linden putts on the first green Tuesday.

NORWAY — Escanaba’s Paxton Johnson, the newest and one of the youngest UP women’s golf champions, couldn’t resist checking the record books.

When was the last time an Escanaba golfer won championship flight in the UP Ladies Golf Association tournament?

“I looked the other night,” Johnson said with a big smile. “It was Rose (Lemire) in 1962.”

So for the first time in 56 years, Escanaba Country Club has another champion. Johnson, an Escanaba High School senior, rallied past Zoe Woodworth of Lake Linden 2-1 in the championship flight finals Tuesday of the 92nd annual tournament at Oak Crest Golf Course.

“It’s amazing and a great honor,” said Johnson, who won her third UP Division 1 high school title in the spring. “I’m just glad I left it all on the course, and I’m happy I could bring home the win.”

Woodworth, a former Colorado Mesa University golfer, carried a two-hole advantage into No. 14. Johnson then won four of the match’s next five holes.

“Paxton started playing really well,” said Woodworth, a three-time UP Division 1 runner-up at Calumet High School. “I’m happy for her. She played good golf. You just never know what’s going to happen.”

Leading one-up going into No. 18, Johnson boomed a drive to within 45 yards of the hole.

“Forty-five yards is like my favorite distance and that’s what my range-finder hit,” said Johnson, who had the assistance of caddie and Norway High School golfer Jeff VanHolla. “I looked at Jeff and I told him 45, and he said ‘that’s money.’

“OK, I got this.”

Johnson hit a 56-degree wedge to within a couple feet of the cup. She followed with a birdie putt to clinch the crown.

“I hit it and I thought it was way long, and then it just stopped and stuck,” Johnson said.

After hitting out of bounds by a foot on No. 13, taking a penalty stroke and trailing by two holes, Johnson went into go-for-broke mode.

“I just wanted to be aggressive and hit the best shots, and, hopefully, some putts will fall,” Johnson said. “I kind of had confidence the whole round so I thought, ‘alright, there’s nothing to lose right now. I’m just going to try to go for it.”

Johnson parred No. 14 to Woodworth’s bogey for a one-shot gap. They halved the par 5-15th and Johnson evened the score with a birdie putt on No. 16.

“That was huge for her and then just kind of kept it going,” Woodworth said. “On the last final holes I just kind of let it go. I three-putted 17 which really hurt.

“There was nothing really I could do on 18 but I think my trouble was just second shots. Overall, I wasn’t giving myself a birdie opportunity.”

In the championship flight semifinals, Johnson downed Hancock High School junior Payton Dube and Woodworth spilled Oak Crest member Kathy Gagnon of Vulcan.

Three straight birdie putts helped Woodworth beat Gagnon.

“I don’t know if it was nerves, I don’t really know,” Woodworth said of her performance over the final holes against Johnson. “My chipping was very good on the front nine so I was getting a lot of up and downs which helped to stay steady with her.”

Woodworth also held a two-hole lead after No. 10, hitting the pin with a 25-yard chip and recording a par-4.

“I’m really happy with how I played,” said Woodworth, who had the tournament field’s lowest handicap with a three.

According to UP golf historian Dennis Grall of Escanaba, the 17-year-old Johnson is the second youngest to win a UP women’s championship. Avery Rochester of Marquette is the youngest, at age 16, in 2012. Christine Walchuk of Ontonagon won the 1996 title at age 17.

By the way, the 2019 UP Ladies Championships will be held at Escanaba Country Club.