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Johnny MacArthur embracing his old self

After finishing his college career, Hart graduate Johnny MacArthur is on a path to renewal

Posted: June 2, 2013 10:30 p.m.
Updated: June 2, 2013 10:30 p.m.

Johnny MacArthur was once of the Santa Clarita Valley's best athletes when he played golf, football and soccer at Hart High School. Since then, his golf game hasn't been quite the same at Pepperdine University. Photo by Jonathan Pobre/The Signal

Johnny MacArthur shakes his head and has an incredulous look on his face.

Confused, he says, “I don’t know why. He’s Max Homa.”

This in response to hearing that Homa, his former Foothill League rival who was in the throes of competing for an NCAA Division I individual national championship, said how much he used to and still does look up to MacArthur.

The sincerity in Homa’s voice made it sound like a kid who looks up to a professional athlete as his idol.

MacArthur could hardly believe it because of the way each’s golf path has gone.

Homa has had an incredible career at Cal. On Thursday, he won that NCAA championship.

MacArthur redshirted his first year at Pepperdine, saw improvement, then, at times, couldn’t crack the lineup as a senior.

But there’s an old adage in golf: You play against the course, you don’t play against other golfers.

Now away from Pepperdine, that old adage is clear for MacArthur, and suddenly he has found the old Johnny Mac.

The 2008 Hart High graduate — one of the best prep golfers in the area in the last decade, maybe ever — will be competing for a spot in the 2013 U.S. Open.

MacArthur will compete in today’s sectional qualifier at Big Canyon Country Club and Newport Beach Country Club in a 36-hole event.

There are 13 sectional qualifiers — 11 in the United States, one in Japan and another in England — that serve as paths to the 2013 U.S. Open on June 10-16 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.

MacArthur, at the time questioning his golf future, shot a medalist round of 68 at Valencia Country Club on May 6 to earn a spot in the sectional qualifier.

“I’m not ready to quit. I don’t like that word. But I was definitely leaning toward getting a job, not playing (competitive) golf for a while,” MacArthur says. “That’s not out of the picture. I’m still stuck. Am I going to continue playing? This U.S. Open thing’s a challenge.”

A challenge, it turns out, MacArthur needed.

The 23-year-old calls the last year humbling.

But to understand how humbling it was, the years leading up to that need to be discussed.

Some might consider MacArthur charmed.

He is the grandson of internationally popular pastor and The Master’s College President John MacArthur.

He is the son of athletes — his father being a former minor league baseball player and his mother being one of the country’s top collegiate gymnasts for a time.

He had the most successful season in Santa Clarita Valley prep golf history with a CIF Southern California championship and a fifth-place finish in the CIF State Championship in 2008.

MacArthur was also an All-Santa Clarita Valley soccer player and football player.

People at Valencia High still are bitter about a game in which MacArthur tossed a Viking player’s wristband, which had the team’s plays on it, toward the Hart bench.

“Come on,” MacArthur says on being told that Valencia High people still talk about that.

But MacArthur says that’s his competitive side — a side which gave him an advantage throughout high school.

It was part of what Homa admired.

“When I was growing up, he was like my idol,” says Homa, who has an exemption to play in the same U.S. Open sectional qualifier. “I wanted to play golf like him. It was really intimidating watching him.”

It’s odd to hear that from a golfer the caliber of Homa, who had a similar prep career to that of MacArthur’s.

“I was no Johnny MacArthur,” Homa says to that notion.

However, that intimidation, that edge that MacArthur had didn’t play in college like it did in high school.

As a redshirt freshman, he appeared in three of 12 tournaments for Pepperdine and had a stroke average of 78.89.

The following season saw him bust into the regular lineup, as he appeared in all 13 of the Waves’ tournaments while cutting his scoring average by four strokes.

His junior year saw another two strokes fall, as he was down to 72.86.

This past year, he saw underclassmen start over him as he appeared in six tournament and saw his stroke average climb to 75.5.

MacArthur admits that he was competing with golfers — not just individuals on other teams, but individuals on his own team.

Although the atmosphere creates that.

In order to get in the lineup, he had to beat teammates.

“I’m beginning to see it kind of hurts me,” MacArthur says of his edge. “Golfers are so mellow. Too much intensity in golf can hurt you. Try to be more mellow, not be so cutthroat.

“I think I got stuck into comparing always,” he adds. “Comparing yourself, sizing people up. ... In golf, it’s not a good thing. I felt like I lost myself and my identity.”

MacArthur was receiving advice from friends and fellow golfers.

He says he would play with fellow Hart and Pepperdine golfer Jason Gore, who has experienced his own ups and downs in the game from nearly winning the 2005 U.S. Open to losing his PGA Tour card.

Homa, he says, who is one of Cal’s all-time greatest golfers, a Pac-12 champion and an All-American this year, has been a huge help.

“It was rough to see him struggle,” Homa says. “When you see who you want to be struggle, it hurts. It seems impossible. I’d hear him talk about he wasn’t good enough. It was shocking. I kept reminding him how good he was. How good he is. I felt he was discounting what he has done. I wasn’t so good in high school, but I found my way in college. It helped me help him. I knew what that low, low feeling was.”

If MacArthur lost his way, he seems to have found it when he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics and went out on his own.

Not that he wasn’t a team player, his game just suits the individual side more.

MacArthur no longer has pressures of competing for a spot on a team.

He has the pressure of competing for a spot in a tournament.

And that, he prefers.

MacArthur refers to himself as Johnny Mac and how he needed to get back to being Johnny Mac.

But the old Johnny Mac was as confident as they come.

Now that his collegiate career is over, there’s no telling where his golf career will go — whether he tries to qualify for more tournaments, goes pro, or gets a job.

For now, he has a chance to make the field of the U.S. Open.

On Wednesday, he left Valencia Country Club after a practice round, confident and grinning wide about today’s event.

Just like the old Johnny Mac — just slightly older, humbled and seasoned.


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