Here’s an article I wrote about Mrs. Johnson last May 13, 2007…
Today, I’d like to greet a dear friend. We’ve met only once. We’ve met six dozens of times. Confused? In person, yes, only once—but through exchanges of emails the past two years, I’ve gotten to know her very well: that she’s lived in the States for 31 years now, that she owns a 4-handicap in golf, that she was the country’s No.1 roller skater in 1973…
Today is the birthday of Maria Johnson. It’s also the birthday of Bebot Pacana. You see, Maria and Bebot are one and the same person, athlete, wife, mother, friend.
Here’s the story I wrote, “Maria Comes To Town,” for Sun.Star Cebu in August 22 last year…
Today, she is called Maria Johnson. She’s American. She’s a golfer; not an ordinary, weekend hacker, but a Pro. Almost. She shoots a 4-handicap — which places her among the top echelon of female golfers in the United States. Amazing?
Maria Johnson lives in Jesup, Georgia. Almost daily, she slips on her gloves, ties the laces of her spiked shoes and strolls towards the golf course. It’s not too far away. It’s right behind her backyard. Maria’s two-acre property sits right beside the golf course. Her swimming pool and garden connect to the fairway. No gates. No fence. Nothing separates her home — and herself — from the golf course. Amazing?
She is one of the top amateur golfers in Georgia. Wow. That’s no easy feat. Georgia is a big state, the home of the Augusta National, where The Masters are held every April. For the past nine years, she’s been the women’s club champion at Pine Forest CC and, from 1990 to ’96, at the Peninsula CC in Port Angeles, Washington State. That’s 16 unbeaten years.
“I played 9 holes with a friend and shot 32,” Maria e-mailed me a couple of months ago, “and bettered my 9-hole record of 33 10 years ago.” For all the world’s non-golfers, shooting a 32 in nine holes means doing a Tiger Woods; a basketball star shooting 43 points by half-time, a bowler rolling a perfect 300. It’s unbelievable. Amazing.
Her secret? “Golf is not an easy sport,” she said. “You heard of one saying, ‘it is 10% physical, 90% mental.’ That is so true! You can have all the physical abilities but if you don’t have the right mind for it, it’s not for you. Self-motivation is the key. (I spend more time practicing more than playing.) You need to have the ‘bug’ to be good at it.”
This ‘bug’ pestered Maria the most in 1995, probably her best year, when she won the USGA Women’s Mid-Amateur Sectional Qualifying in Washington State and got into the national championship in Essex, Massachusetts. A total 144 qualifiers from all over the U.S. vied for 64 spots. She made the cut.
She is Maria Johnson. She’s also Maria Teresa Pacana. Or, for short, “Bebot.”
Prior to leaving for the US 30 years ago, she was Bebot. A few weeks ago, Bebot arrived in Cebu for business and leisure. She’s Cebuana. Born here, studied at the Colegio de Sto. Nino for elementary and the CSJ-R (now USJ-R) in high school. Though she speaks with an American slang, her Bisaya is “maayo ra gihapon.”
Bebot and I first met in the computer. E-mail, it’s called. Last May, after I wrote about her family friend Vice Mayor Mike Rama, she wrote. Bebot may be 14,000 kms. away from Cebu but she closely follows sports, politics and the local tsismis.
Finally, after dozens of e-mails exchanged, we met the other week. Very pretty. That’s what I can say of her. She should be. Her mom was the former Cebuana actress Eva de Villa. She’s also super-fit. Almost daily since she arrived, at 5 in the morning she’s off jogging at the Cebu City Sports Center. Though she’s 50, she has the face of a 40-year-old and the physique of a 30-year-old.
Golf in Cebu? Of course. The other Sunday, upon the invitation of fellow writer Ed Chiongbian, she joined the Aznar Cup at the Alta Vista. She had never before stepped on the hills of the Alta Vista. Her score? A gross 73, or 1-over par. Less her 4-handicap, she was 3-under. Didn’t I tell you she was amazing?
That’s not all. A long while back, in March of 1976 to be exact, she was invited to the First All-Cebu Sports Awards. Together with Congressman Eddie Gullas, she was the pioneer recipient of a trophy. Not in golf, no. She only learned golf in 1986—and did not hire an instructor but is self-taught. (“I’m very visual,” she told me. “I observe the top players and copy their swings. That’s how I learn.”)
Exactly 30 years ago, Bebot Pacana received an award as the best female roller skater having won the Philippine National title in 1973, ‘74 and ‘75.
At her Jesup, Georgia home, Maria is holding the 3rd place 5K Run trophy she recently won
Today, Maria Johnson is happy. In the U.S., she used to work as an accountant before focusing full-time on golf. Her family is all-golf: Husband Mark has a 7-handicap while their 17-year-old son Kevin owns a 1-handicap. “Three years ago,” Bebot said, “Kevin, then 14, set a course record at our golf course shooting a low round of 63 from the back tees.”
Bebot Pacana is a born achiever. On the golf course — and off it. Over lunch at Waterfront Hotel’s Cafe Uno the other week, she related to my wife Jasmin and I her recent experience. She wanted to organize her CSJ-R high school batch for a reunion. Back in 2003, they were celebrating their 30th anniversary. But a problem arose: no one dared to gather her batch-mates. So she did the only thing she knows — like in golf and roller-skating — she focused. She flew into town, contacted dozens of friends, and didn’t accept “Sorry, I can’t attend.” The result? Last Friday night here, over 60 classmates partied like high schoolers.
Maria Johnson or Bebot Pacana, golf or roller-skating, American or Cebuana, she’s one and the same person. Amazing.