A little more than a year ago, Marie and Greg Johnson made a leap of faith.
According to Marie Johnson, Greg had lost his job, and so on "savings and a prayer," the Johnsons moved from Owings Mills, Md., their home of 12 years, to Bluffton, primarily to facilitate their son Elliott's budding junior golf career.
That move has finally paid off.
After living in the Lowcountry for only a little more than a year, Elliott Johnson, who played on the Bluffton High School golf team last season, has earned a partial scholarship to attend the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy.
Marie Johnson said the family had visited the area two years ago, specifically for Elliott to tour the academy.
"Elliott didn't want to leave," she said. "We thought, 'we don't know how or when, but we're going to get him back down here.' "
Once he was living in the area, chance took over. Doing what he does best, Elliott shot a first-round 72 at a Hurricane Junior Golf Tour event in December, putting him atop the Day 1 leaderboard. According to Greg Johnson, the family met Stefanie Shaw, an instructor at the IJGA, while at the tournament.
"It just so happened that one of the people from the IJGA was there," Elliott said. "They invited me to talk to some other people, and I got to know them."
After Elliott became a member at Pinecrest Golf Club, where the IJGA golfers practice, Shaw introduced him to one of the academy's coaches, Alex Puchales. Puchales began to work with Elliott on his own.
"Sometimes when he came to Pinecrest, I would see him working," Puchales said. "I saw some things he could do better and I helped him out."
Puchales said you can see the potential in Elliott.
"He's a great kid, a good listener. Whatever we ask him to do, he's willing to do it," Puchales said. "If he doesn't understand it, he asks. He's a very dedicated student."
After Elliott, 15, won the Boys 15-19 division in July at the International Junior Golf Tour event at Dolphin Head, the academy offered him a partial scholarship.
"He's just the kind of kid you want to help," said John Strother, who works with admissions at the academy. "He's polite, well-spoken and intelligent. He's the kind of kid you want to succeed.
"When he won one of our tournaments, we decided to help him out with some scholarship money."
Now Elliott -- who, according to his mother, rarely had a coach to work with while living in Maryland -- has full-time instruction, seven days a week.
"I think with the coaches I used to have, it was a little bit of full swing, a little bit of short game," said Elliott, who will still attend Bluffton High School. "At the academy, they cover everything, as well as fitness and nutrition. And the mental part of it. Really, now I'm just more prepared for the tournaments I'm playing in."
Before he was 2 years old, Marie Johnson says her son Elliott would watch his father practice his swing in the back yard and then imitate him.
"I would pick up sticks and actually swing in my back yard," Elliott said.
So Marie bought Elliott, then just 1 1/2, a set of Fisher-Price plastic clubs.
"I would just go around the house and just play with those for hours. I think they actually have video of that," Elliott said.
By the time he was 2, Elliott had a real set of clubs. And now at 15, with eight junior titles under his belt, including the 2007 Baltimore Junior Championship in the Boys 10-13 division at 10 years old, he has a real set of goals to go with his clubs.
"The first thing is to get a college scholarship to play golf," Elliott said. "I'm looking to go out to the West Coast to play -- maybe UCLA, Stanford, or Southern Cal. From there, I hope to join the PGA Tour, move up through the ranks and become the No. 1 player in the world.
"That's my long-term goal. The short-term goal is to play college golf."
Since Elliott's scholarship only covers part of the cost for him to attend the academy, his family has set up a website to help raise the rest of the money they need. Shaw and Puchales have agreed to give discounted golf lessons to help him reach his goal.
But as daunting as the task of raising money is, Elliott isn't stressed by the situation.
"For some reason, everything just seems like it's falling into place like it's supposed to," Elliott said. "Maybe it's crazy, but I don't really think about (the money). I don't really worry about it."