Having made the cut in the Dunhill Links Championship last October on his professional debut and then winning on one of Europe’s third-tier circuits, it has been a promising start in the paid ranks for Liam Johnston, who freely admits that suffering one of the most painful defeats in Scottish golf history has played its part.
Only 18 at the time and one of the country’s brightest young talents, the Dumfries man was on course to win the 2013 Scottish Boys Championship at Dunbar in style. Seven up at the halfway stage in the 18-hole final against David Wilson of Troon Welbeck, it looked like being a title procession on the East Lothian coast.
That Johnston ended up losing at the second extra hole – the first final in that event to require more than 36 holes since Andrew Coltart had triumphed at the same venue in 1987 – certainly stung at the time but has not left lasting mental scars.
“Even to this day and despite it being a bad experience, I still draw positives from Dunbar,” he told The Scotsman. “It has taught me what to do different. It also taught me that it’s never over until it is over. If momentum starts to go your way, there’s always a chance that you can turn it around.”
This he discovered when claiming victory in the Open Prestigia, an event on the Pro Golf Tour, in Morocco earlier in the year. The 25-year-old was four shots off the lead on the 16th tee before finishing with three birdies to come out on top in a dramatic finish.
“In Africa, it swung my way and I was able to capitalise on someone else’s mistake,” he said of winning the African Amateur Championship after last-day slip-ups by home player Christo Lamprecht. “Even more so in Morocco. It shows you that golf is such a crazy game.”
Johnston, who also won the Scottish Stroke-Play Championship last year before bringing down the curtain on his amateur career, leads the Pro Golf Tour Order of Merit after eight events, so is on course to secure a step up to the Challenge Tour next season. Playing as an invitee, he gave a good account of himself on that circuit last week, carding a 64 in the second round in finishing in the top 20 in the Turkish Airlines Challenge.
“The last 12 months have been great for me,” admitted Johnston, who is coached by James Erskine, the PGA pro at Dumfries & County. “Winning breeds winning and I want to keep putting myself in positions to do that. I don’t feel out of place when I’m in those positions. I feel comfortable and I know what I need to do to get the job done rather than worrying about certain circumstances.
“The Pro Golf Tour involves a lot of travelling from country to country, so I think it helps prepare you better for Challenge Tour and European Tour. The prize money on offer on the PGA EuroPro Tour is better, but I feel this will stand me in better stead in terms of learning your trade.
“Getting a taste for it (playing on the European Tour) at the Dunhill has given me a determination to get there. It showed my game was able to stand up. Obviously I’ve got a lot of hard work ahead, but I am looking forward to the next few years to achieve my goals.
“I’m hoping to get a few more Challenge Tour starts and I am trying to work out what ones fit in schedule. The maximum is seven or eight so I will hopefully get that many. If I keep going well on ProGolf Tour, and get three wins, I won’t have to rely on invitations as I will get straight on.”