Sports

Ian Johnston continues to work on golf game

University of South Dakota freshman's season cut short; family still dedicated to raise awareness for substance abuse

Cedar Rapids Prairie's Ian Johnston tees off on hole 13 at the Mississippi Valley Conference Division II boys' high scho
Cedar Rapids Prairie’s Ian Johnston tees off on hole 13 at the Mississippi Valley Conference Division II boys’ high school golf meet at Gardner Golf Course in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Ian Johnston’s resourcefulness has provided another option to hone his craft.

When his freshman golf season at University of South Dakota was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulted in an extended stay at home, the former Cedar Rapids Prairie prep equipped his garage when he couldn’t get on the course.

“My dad (Jeff Johnston) and I purchased a Trackman,” said Johnston, who still plays and practices at Elmcrest Country Club. “We put that in the garage and built up kind of a home simulator. I put a net in there with a tarp behind it. It’s kind of cool. I can play different courses. I can practice. I can do a lot of different things.

“I built a putting green in my garage as well, too. I have a full setup in there when it’s not nice (outside).”

Johnston continues to work on his game with daily rounds and practice, looking to return to competition for summer tournaments and head back to school in Vermillion, S.D., in the fall. He played three rounds for the Coyotes and saw action in the Zach Johnson Invitational during the fall season.

“It was definitely a big adjustment,” Johnston said. “This spring, I’ve been playing really well lately. I feel like I’ve got a lot more confidence than I had in the fall.”

Johnston was home for spring break, which was extended, before two weeks of scheduled online classes. He recalled the strange feeling when he played a round at Brown Deer Golf Club in Coralville during the early stages of the outbreak.

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The parking lot was empty and his friends thought it was closed. Johnston looked over the course from the elevated first tee box, noticing they were the only ones playing.

“It was very surreal not seeing anyone because Brown Deer is a very popular course,” Johnston said. “People are out there a lot.

“We had the whole course to ourselves. I’ve never had that before. It was pretty crazy.”

Johnston was on the course another time when he received a text the season was canceled shortly after an email that the rest of the semester was scrapped. He has been in constant contact with coaches and teammates since the separation.

“We check in on each other,” Johnston said. “We talk individually with teammates. We just had a Zoom meeting on Wednesday for about 30 minutes to check up and stuff.

“We just talked about NCAA and its decision and how we’re going to go forward with next year.”

The NCAA granted eligibility relief for spring sports athletes, allowing them to reclaim a year of eligibility. Johnston expects to take advantage of that opportunity.

“I’m really kind of pleased with the NCAA’s decision because this is kind of a reset button for me,” Johnston said. “Now, I’m going to have four years total, if I continue to play, which I plan to.”

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Johnston and his family have used golf as a vehicle for charity. Johnston raised money and awareness for substance abuse after the loss of his 23-year-old brother, Seth Carnicle, who died of a heroin overdose in 2016. The campaign received national attention and support.

Their work continues to fight the epidemic. Jeff Johnston established Choices Network LTD, which raises awareness of addiction and substance abuse issues. The nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization was approved by the state in March.

“It’s building off our last couple summers,” said Johnston, noting it can be followed @choices_network on Twitter. “We actually have a program now.

“I think it’s really cool. It’s really inspired me, because I always play with a purpose. I have a greater purpose. I’m really thankful for that.”

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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