Links to Garrison

Johnson Wagner putts during a tournament playoff in 2015 at the Golf Club of Houston. (Photo by Jerome Miron/USA Today)

Hamlet was home to two top golfers

When Johnson Wagner was a high school student in Garrison, he would play 36 holes a day in the summer with his buddies, usually at the Osiris Country Club near Newburgh.

They competed for grilled-cheese-and-bacon sandwiches. They would try to make each other slice drives or miss putts with well-timed coughs and sneezes.

Those low-stakes battles in the mid-1990s helped Wagner, who attended O’Neill High School in Highland Falls and Virginia Tech, compete when the stakes were considerably higher on the Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA) Tour.

“It molded who I am as a golfer and as a competitor,” he said. “We would beat each other’s brains in every day. Without that competition, I doubt my career would have gone where it went.”

While Wagner, 43, is at the end of his playing career, another former Garrison resident, Cameron Young, is at the beginning. Young, 25, was a student at the Garrison School before moving to the grounds of the Sleepy Hollow Country Club, where his father is the pro. He attended Fordham Prep in the Bronx and Wake Forest University before turning pro in 2019 and now lives in Florida. 

Young was named the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year for 2021-22 with 94 percent of the vote, finishing No. 32 in the field and earning more than $4 million. In May 2022, he tied for third at the PGA Championship.

Cameron Young drives from the 18th tee earlier this month during the third round of a tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Photo by David Yeazell/USA Today

Cameron Young drives from the 18th tee earlier this month during the third round of a tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by David Yeazell/USA Today)

In 2021, Young married Kelsey Dalition, whom he dated at Wake Forest but had known since his family was living in Garrison. “I played hockey for her dad and with her brother,” he told The Journal News. “They’re not a golf family at all so Kelsey is kind of still learning the ropes. It’s actually great for me, because the last thing I want to do when I get home is answer questions like, ‘Why’d you pull a 9-iron on 16?’ That would make my head explode, so that’s been a blessing.”

Wagner turned pro in 2002 and earned his PGA Tour card in 2007 by finishing second on the money list in the 2006 Nationwide Tour. He won his first PGA Tour event, the Shell Houston Open, in 2008, which earned him an invitation to the Masters Tournament, where he tied for 36th place. He later won the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Cancun in a playoff (2011) and the Sony Open in Hawaii (2012).

He has been slowed in recent years by a knee injury. “I’m sick of playing bad golf,” he recently told a podcaster. Last year he only competed in one tournament and missed the cut. “The last couple of years have been pretty lean,” he said. 

Rather than competing in the Masters in Augusta next week, Wagner will be on the 15th green with PGA Tour radio announcer Brian Katrek, learning the ropes for a new career as a broadcaster. 

With his parents, Tommy and Betty Wagner, and older brother, T.J., Wagner moved from Nashville to Avery Road in Garrison in 1994 before his freshman year at O’Neill. His father had been hired to teach computer science at West Point. 

Moving to New York worried Wagner, who now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I thought it was all going to be concrete,” he recalled. “I had no idea that New York was the mecca of American golf.” 

He felt better after learning he would be within driving distance of some of the top courses in the country, including Winged Foot in Mamaroneck and Shinnecock Hills on Long Island.

Initially, Wagner played mainly at the West Point Golf Course and the Highlands Country Club in Garrison, which was the home course for O’Neill. He worked for a couple of years in the pro shop there and swept the tennis courts.

His life took a turn one day at the Fishkill Golf Course on Route 9, where he met Nick Maselli, a standout golfer at John Jay High School in Hopewell Junction. That connection would bring Wagner and his brother into the circle of golf buddies, who included Maselli’s teammates Malcolm Gatherer, Brian Schuler, Reggie Bergholz and Kyle Dwyer. 

Dwyer was the son of Jimmy Dwyer, the golf pro at Osiris. The teenagers all joined as junior members.

No one would mistake the Osiris for a great American course, “but we thought it was like Augusta,” Maselli recalled. “We got dropped off at 8 a.m. and our parents would pick us up at dark.”

During the summers, the boys played 18 holes before lunch. They would play another 18 holes, or more, in the afternoon, said Gatherer, who lives in Hopewell Junction. “It was probably the best time of my life,” he said.

Wagner brothers

T.J. and Johnson Wagner when the brothers lived in Garrison (Photo provided)

From the beginning, everyone recognized Wagner’s talent. “He wasn’t like the rest of us,” said Kyle Dwyer, who also lives in Hopewell Junction. “The ball didn’t look the same or sound the same compared to the rest of us. He could hit the ball in a way that the rest of us aspired to. He was always the longest hitter.”

In addition, says Gatherer, “he could handle the pressure. He always had that knack. In the big events, he had the ability to take it to another level” even when his friends did their best to distract him.

Wagner showed no fear, said Schuler, now a club pro in Boynton Beach, Florida. “He wasn’t afraid to be 2 under par. He would stay aggressive and try to get to four or five under. That’s rare. Johnson always had that.”

At Virginia Tech, Wagner earned a spot in the school’s Sports Hall of Fame. As an amateur, he invented the so-called Wagner Slam by winning, in a single year, the three most important events of the Metropolitan Golf Association, which covers the New York area.

His Osiris buddies came along for the ride. Gatherer and Dwyer both caddied for him in the early days.

Wagner has competed in 362 PGA Tour events with three wins and 23 Top 10 finishes. He has won more than $12 million during his 17 years on tour.

Wagner, with his signature mustache, is now an analyst on the Golf Channel.

Wagner, with his signature mustache, is now an analyst on the Golf Channel.

He also gained a bit of notoriety in 2012 when he grew a Magnum P.I.-style mustache. “My friends back home ripped me about how awful it was,” he said at the time. When he shaved it during a slump, his wife was delighted.

With his playing career winding down, Wagner hopes to stay in the game. “I’ve never had a job outside of golf,” he said. In addition to his gig at the Highlands Country Club, he washed golf carts at the Garrison Golf Club and caddied at Hudson National Golf Club in Croton-on-Hudson.

Now he works as an analyst on the Golf Channel and was recently an on-course reporter for coverage of the Puerto Rico Open. 

He’s also brought back his mustache, at the suggestion of his wife. “It’s your brand,” she told him with a sigh. “You’re going to have to grow it back.”

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