Photo by Janet Taylor.
Hugh, left, and Shari Johnson, here with son Michael, established the Bradley Johnson Memorial Tournament 10 years ago in honor of their oldest son. Michael, who will graduate from Auburn in May, is ranked the second best college player in the country and the 31st amateur in the world.
Bradley Johnson may no longer walk the fairways, but for the last 10 years numerous young players have followed his path, taking part in the golf tournament that bears his name.
The Bradley Johnson Memorial Golf Tournament celebrated its 10th anniversary in March, a two-day event named for the Spain Park High School student and rising golf amateur who lost his life in a 2006 automobile accident at age 17.
Held at Greystone Golf & Country Club, the tournament featured 15 Alabama high school teams with a total of 75 players. Proceeds go to the nonprofit Bradley Johnson Memorial Foundation, established by Shari and Hugh Johnson in their son’s name and dedicated to providing financial resources for male and female junior golfers for college scholarships and tournament participation.
According to Shari, the foundation has awarded $180,000 over the last 10 years.
“Bradley’s is a very public story. He took up golf at the age of 8, played for Spain Park and was nationally ranked when he passed away,” Shari said. “Ten years later we have been able to help dozens of kids — both boys and girls — get to the college level of golf, including some that are now tour players. It means so much to us.”
The foundation’s assistance also means a lot to Will Wilcox, who has full status on the PGA tour, is number 67 on the FedEx Cup list and is ranked 136th in the world. From Pell City, Wilcox attended UAB and then Clayton State University. But as a senior, his scholarship money had run out, and between classes and having to wait tables, he was struggling to be able to pursue his sport.
“That’s when the foundation stepped up and helped me out financially so I could still play golf,” he said. “It was so impactful for a senior in college and my future.”
Wilcox, 29, said he was close friends with Bradley, though the three-year age difference led them in different directions socially.
“I loved the Johnson family, and Bradley was just a freshman when everyone was saying he was the real deal,” he said. “People called him the next up-and-coming superstar from Alabama, and they were right.”
Al Del Greco, today Samford University men’s golf coach, had a similar feeling when he was coaching the Spain Park High School golf team and Bradley was a student at Berry Middle School.
Del Greco, who started the Spain Park golf program in 2001 and coached to 2010, said he “kept hearing about this kid in the seventh grade.”
“We had to convince the Berry principal to let him play, and I didn’t know if he was good enough to make the starting five, but I did know he would eventually help us,” Del Greco said. “He was so talented. he placed third in his first tournament. Some kids just have that ‘it’ factor — they work, love the competition and nothing scares them, and that was Bradley.”
During his days at Spain Park, Del Greco said he had the honor to coach another up-and-comer in Michael Johnson, Bradley’s younger brother by four years.
Michael, who will graduate from Auburn in May and is ranked the second best college player in the country with a world amateur ranking of 31, said his relationship with his brother Bradley was not that competitive, but rather a “classic big brother” situation.
“He’d pick on me a lot but then stand up for me when I needed it,” Michael, 23, said. “And besides playing every Sunday with our dad, we didn’t golf together as much as people think. He was four years older, a lot bigger and could hit the ball a lot farther.”
Michael, who spoke at the memorial tournament last year, said his brother would love the event “because he loved golf, competing and especially building relationships with almost everyone he met.”
“But as far as being remembered, it would depend on who you asked because his close friends wouldn’t remember him for golf, and that’s what he’d want,” Michael said. “He’d never boast, just play a round then go hang out with friends. He loved being a normal kid.”
Scott Barnes, a fellow Spain Park golf team member, said Bradley was the first to befriend him when he moved to Hoover from a small town as a high school freshman.
“He was the one who reached out to me, bringing me into his group and made me feel like I belonged,” Barnes said. “He was the best golfer on the team, one of the best junior golfers in the country and pretty much had his pick of where he could play college golf, but you’d never know it.”
Barnes, who serves as youth minister of Riverchase United Methodist Church, said he often speaks to young people about his friend.
“Bradley’s funeral was packed with so many people from so many schools and every walk of life and I tell that to the kids and use him as an example of what I expect of them,” he said. “He wasn’t perfect, but the way he treated others is something we can all take lessons from.”
Barnes said he and many friends make it a point to gather each year at the Bradley Johnson Memorial Tournament, making the event “almost like a class reunion.”
“It’s been 10 years, but it seems like yesterday, and that shows the impact Bradley had on people,” he said.“He’d be embarrassed to be in the spotlight, but it’s great his memory and legacy go on. And we all want to see it continue for the next 10 years and 10 years after that.”
For more information about the Bradley Johnson Memorial Foundation and Tournament, go to bradleyjohnsonmemorialfoundation.org.