By the numbers, Trish Johnson of England is a 53-year-old veteran touring pro with 27 career victories hoping to win this year’s Lacoste Ladies Open de France for the fourth time.
That’s a tall order in a field of hungry young pros half her age eager to make their own marks in women’s professional golf.
But to dismiss Johnson as only a veteran in a young pro’s game is to not fully grasp an impressive career longevity that only a few women still possess.
Juli Inkster of California, Laura Davies of England, Catriona Matthew of Scotland, Johnson and this year’s United States Senior Women’s Open champion Helen Alfredsson of Sweden, are all players who have reduced their tournament schedules in recent years, but have remained competitive.
They have continued playing into their 50s, either winning or contending deep into their careers. Inkster and Matthew each captain Solheim Cup teams next week in Scotland for the United States and Europe.
“I’m probably more motivated than ever because I love competing,” said Johnson, playing in this month’s championship as a past women’s French Open winner (1996, 1999 and 2010).
“I’m not exactly sure why I’ve always played well in France, but once you do, it sort of gets in your head that you always will,” she added.
Still, Johnson has played in the shadow of Davies for most of her career and has also been overshadowed by Alison Nicholas, also of England, who, like Davies, has won a United States Women’s Open.
But Johnson, a lithe 5-foot-10 athlete, has held her own competitively on every level since the mid-1980s. As an amateur, she was the 1985 English Amateur and English Women’s Stroke Play champion and a member of the 1986 Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup team.
Johnson always faced solid competition from Davies at home in England. They had met at an English girls championship when she was 13 and Davies was 15, Johnson said.
“I was the winner and that was pretty much the last time I beat her,” said Johnson, who would regularly face Davies for the next three decades on the Ladies European Tour and L.P.G.A. tour.
Johnson began her professional career on the Ladies European Tour in 1987 and was the tour’s top rookie that season with three wins. She was the tour’s 1990 Order of Merit winner with four victories and finished in the top 10 in earnings 15 times from 1987 to 2014.
Even during her most productive years in Europe, Johnson was often bouncing back and forth from Europe to the L.P.G.A. tour in the United States, where she earned membership in 1988 after winning the L.P.G.A.’s annual qualifying tournament in 1987.
From the 1980s to the early 2000s, Johnson amassed 19 L.E.T. wins, three L.P.G.A. victories and three wins on the Legends Tour, the United States-based tour for L.P.G.A. players age 45 and over.
Her last L.E.T. win came at age 48, at the 2014 Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open. That was followed by a victory at the inaugural 2017 Senior L.P.G.A. Championship, and by her most recent wins at the 2018 Suquamish Clearwater Legends Cup and the 2018 BJ’s Charity Championship, a Legends Tour team event she played with Davies.
Earlier this summer, she tied for second with Inkster at the United States Senior Women’s Open, two shots behind Alfredsson.
“I think what makes Trish such a great and prolific winner is her never-give-up attitude and determination,” said Davies, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“She just loves to compete, and that’s what keeps her going,” Davies said. “You have to have that love of competition to last. She definitely does not get the credit she deserves.”
Davies and Johnson were members of Europe’s inaugural Solheim Cup team in 1990 and would pair for matches many times in the biennial event played between Europe and the United States.
Johnson was a member of eight European Solheim Cup teams, and while Davies was the risk-taking bomber of the pairing, it was Johnson who would hit steely approach shots under pressure and drain critical putts to fire up their team.
“Once she gets on one of those birdie streaks, she’s hard to stop,” said Martin Park, her coach. “It’s fun to watch.”
Johnson began working with Park in autumn 2011. She turned to the swing coach to see what else she could get from her game as her competition became increasingly younger and longer.
“I still think I can get better,” she said of her decision to refocus her game. “And I haven’t really lost any length from when I was in my mid-20s.”
Park and Johnson concentrated on her swing, balance and overall technique. The next season in 2012, she posted eight top-10 finishes that included six in the top five.
“She gave herself plenty of chances, competing again in her mid-40s with the youngsters,” Park said. “And she loved it.”
Johnson also said she had tightened her fitness focus, heading into the gym three times a week for cardio work, as well as stretching exercises.
Seven years ago, she also visited an orthopedic clinic for serious tendinitis in both elbows. That visit led to strengthening her neck and back, which eventually eliminated her chronic pain.
“We’re not youngsters anymore, so it’s hard work,” Johnson said in May.
But time and considerable effort has given her valuable perspective over the years, which she said she believed would help her win again.
“I appreciate every event more because I know I’m closer to the end of my career than the beginning,” she said. “But you never really lose your competitiveness, no matter what age you are.”