Growing up in a small town in Minnesota, Donald “Don” Johnson was always into sports. Back then his game of choice was baseball, which led him to St. Cloud State Teaching College where he was a catcher on the baseball team. After graduating he became a teacher for a few years before joining the Navy in 1941, where he was assigned to patrols along the eastern coast to monitor German submarine traffic.
Then in 1944, he was issued his final assignment with the USS Iowa where he spent his final few months in service. Upon his discharge, Don returned home to his wife Phyllis in Minnesota. He settled into civilian life working in the restaurant business, which brought him to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This is when Don discovered his passion for the game of golf.
It just happened that a business owner across the street from Don’s restaurant was an avid golfer and convinced him to take up the game. It didn’t take long for Don to become hooked.
“He’d take me out and show me the game. I got good enough to be a par golfer,” Don said with a smile. “The courses were easy though.”
Don maintained his passion for golf throughout his career, often calling his wife to tell her he was going to play a round of golf on the way home. Even during rainy days when his wife would question him, he would say, “Phyllis, the golf course never gets wet.”
“I’ve always interpreted that to mean if you love something, pursue it with passion despite any adversity you might face,” his daughter Linnea Johnson-Scott said. “In the end, it’s worth it.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020 the world shut down and for the first time, Don thought his playing days were over. At over 100 years of age, he didn’t think he’d make it back onto a course again.
Then this winter, Linnea and her brother learned about the National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic and saw that it was nearby in Riverside, Iowa. They just knew that it was the perfect opportunity to get their dad back on the course again.
“He was a little apprehensive on the first day because he was worried about not being able to see the ball and get around the course,” Linnea said. “At 107 years old it is much harder to do the things he used to do easily. Even the little things can be challenging.”
His concerns quickly evaporated once he arrived and began using the adaptive solo rider golf cart, meeting all the support staff and his teammates.
“He understood that each of his teammates, like him, has a disability to overcome,” she added. “He saw that they weren’t letting their disability stop them from pursuing their passion, so it wasn’t going to stop him.”
The other members of Don’s team were thrilled to be a part of his experience and to have him on their team and just see him in action. On his final shot of the day, he sank a beautiful 15-foot putt that drew cheers.
“One more hole,” Don kept saying with a huge smile on his face as he left the course.
He is already making plans to return next year.