Josh Johnson of the Florida Marlins pitches during a game against the Colorado Rockies at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
If this major league team staff ace thing doesn't work out for Josh Johnson, there's another sport he's learning to enjoy.
JUPITER, Fla. –- The scrum of media surrounded Miami Marlins ace Josh Johnson on Wednesday morning in a clubhouse filled with new teammates, a new manager and with reality cameras rolling. After Johnson finished answering questions about his health, the new look of this team and new manager Ozzie Guillen, I approached Johnson and asked him about his golf game.
I had heard he was possibly going to be paired with Rory McIlroy for the PGA's Honda Classic Pro-Am PGA in nearby Palm Beach Gardens next week and wanted to know how good a golfer he was.
"They asked me if I wanted to do it," Johnson said, with a big smile. "I don't know who I'm paired with yet."
While some teammates knew about his upcoming appearance, not all did, including his batterymate.
"It wouldn't surprise me, he's really good," catcher John Buck said. "I just play golf to have fun. He actually has spin on the ball, he lines his putts up; I just pretend to from what I'm watched on TV."
The Honda Classic is next Wednesday and Johnson said he already got permission from the Marlins to attend. Guillen was pleased with his mound session on Wednesday and said he looked good. Clearly, if there were any worries about his health, he wouldn't be allowed anywhere near the event. Johnson had a 1.64 ERA but made just nine starts last year and was shut down with right shoulder inflammation. He worked hard over the winter to build strength and come back strong.
"I feel good," he said. "They told me if you feel anything [painful] don't let this get in the way of what we're trying to do."
But he's not as confident in his golf game.
"I can throw a baseball in front of 100,000 people [and be fine]," he said, "but I hit a golf ball in front of 10 people and I get nervous – I guarantee you everybody in here would get nervous, we all do."
Johnson said he first started playing the sport when he was 18 years old, and about three or four years ago he started taking it more seriously. He said his handicap is about a 3.7 and his iron play is his strength. If he's putting well, he can shoot for par, or maybe "1, 2 or 3 over."
He was always a fan of Tiger Woods, but last year at this time he was at the PGA course and heard a ball being hit in a much different way. That's when he saw McIlroy launching balls all over the field.
"It's like a baseball player hitting the ball off the bat; it's a different sound," Johnson said. "It's pretty incredible."
He said much like how he spots his pitches, McIlroy was placing the golf balls all over the course, exactly where he wanted them. Johnson has been practicing all winter and the local course he's played before, but said he wished he could get in there before his debut next week. The course is closed to the public leading up to the event. His two tee-time options are either 9 a.m. or noon. If it's 9, then his teammates won't be able to watch him play. With his family possibly out of town, the only person who may be there in support is his longtime friend Chong Nam, who's flying in to be Johnson's caddy.
"We play golf once or twice a week," said Johnson. "He knows my clubs, what kind of shots I can hit in certain situations."
Nam probably won't be able to calm the nerves, though. Johnson said it usually takes him about two holes before he starts settling down. This winter when he lined up in a tee-box at a local course, there were roughly 40 people around him and he got the shakes.
"This [will be] another level," he said.
Follow Amy K. Nelson on Twitter at @amyknelson