Genesis Invitational

Golf pro finally talks to his idol Tiger Woods and gets his autograph? Uh, no

February 17, 2024
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Chase Johnson met and talked to Tiger Woods on Wednesday in the Riviera Country Club clubhouse. (Photo courtesy of Chase Johnson)

LOS ANGELES — It was a conversation years in the waiting. Chase Johnson grew up in Ohio idolizing and copying the routines of Tiger Woods, and on Wednesday at Riviera Country Club, he finally got to look him in the eye and have a chat.

Johnson, 28, is a current mini-tour pro who was awarded by Woods the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption into this week’s Genesis Invitational. There are no better opportunities on the PGA Tour than getting the opportunity to play in a $20 million signature event that has a minimum check of $52,000 for the last-place finisher on the weekend.

On Friday, Johnson made a four-foot par putt on the 18th hole to reach the final two rounds and stands to make the biggest check of his life. But the money won’t compare to the experience he had early in the week, when Woods took time to speak to him for a few minutes in the quiet of the locker room.

Their previous meeting had been a quick one—with Woods stopping to take a photo with Johnson when the superstar visited the World Wide Technology Championship in Mexico last fall.

This time, the two chatted about golf-y things, including how the heavy air at Riviera affects shots. Johnson then introduced Woods to his dad, Mel, who had followed much of the coaching blueprint of Earl Woods in bringing up Chase.

“My dad—he nearly lost it,” Johnson recalled with a bright smile. “He was, like, ‘Anybody get a picture of that?’ He was very excited, and I was excited, too. I met my idol.”

Johnson, who looked like a little Tiger when he attended PGA Tour events at Firestone Country Club, had been seeking Woods autograph for years with no luck. So, of course, this was not the perfect chance for him to get the legend’s signature.

“Didn’t get it,” he said sheepishly. “Had a glove, but didn’t have a Sharpie. I was asking around, anybody got a Sharpie? There were 20 people there and no one did. Tiger said, don’t worry, we’ll take care of you by the end of the week. Obviously, there were unforeseen circumstances.”

Those, of course, would be Woods having to withdraw from the tournament on Friday due to the flu.

So, the journey continues on the Tiger autograph front, as does Johnson’s foray into the top level of golf. This is his fifth PGA Tour start, and the current APGA Tour standout has made three cuts. He shot 72-70 in the first two rounds here to make the cut on the number, the nervy putt he made on the 36th hole for par was probably the most valuable of his career. His single-biggest check is $54,000 for finishing runner-up to Will Zalatoris on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020, and he stands to make more than that with a strong finish on Sunday.

On Saturday, Johnson shot 73 to fall seven places, while his playing partner, Eric Cole, scored 65 to climb 27 spots.

“I have to perform better on the weekends out here,” Johnson said. “I’ve done well making cuts and then I stall.”

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Chase Johnson poses with a young fan at Riviera Country Club.

Johnson is affable and outgoing, and he’s touched more than a few fans this week with his interactions. Walking back from the range on Friday, a young boy in Cobra and Puma gear—the companies he represents—approached him and got an autograph. In exchange, the boy gave Johnson a pack of flavored tees he’d gotten at the golf clinic the day before. “A full-circle moment, for sure,” Johnson said.

There was an even better one. While Johnson waited to hit his second shot into the par-5 11th on Friday, he gave a young girl in the gallery an extra glove. Since he was in the middle of working, Johnson didn’t sign it. But he decided if he had a chance at eagle with his 263-yard approach, he’d do it. Johnson striped his 3-wood to a few feet, made the eagle, and the girl had her autograph.

“I made her the happiest person on the course,” Johnson said. “She was so excited.”

Good thing he had a Sharpie.