Kamaiu Johnson 'grew up in a very, very racist town.' Then something changed.

Kamaiu Johnson didn’t quite know how to act around a golf course the day he wandered out the back of his grandmother’s apartment that (...)

Kamaiu Johnson 'grew up in a very, very racist town.' Then something changed.

Kamaiu Johnson didn’t quite know how to act around a golf course the day he wandered out the back of his grandmother’s apartment that bordered the 4th hole of the Hilaman Golf Course in Tallahassee.

Johnson, 13 at the time, moved to Tallahassee from Madison County, where it was known Blacks were not allowed on their golf courses.

“I grew up in a very, very racist town,” Johnson said.

Living in a two-bedroom unit with six others, Johnson, who dropped out of school in the 8th grade, would stand on the balcony on the third-floor and “wish I could go down there.”

One day he did, picked up a stick and started swinging.

Jan Auger happened to be playing her round at that time, and Johnson’s life would change forever.

“I noticed he had a pretty good swing, so I thought he was swinging a golf club,” said Auger, who was playing the 3rd hole.

Auger, who is the general manager for golf for the city of Tallahassee, started quizzing Johnson. Why wasn’t he in school? Where did he live? What was he doing?

“He was such a cute little kid,” she said.

So, she offered him a bucket of balls and a 9-iron. “His face lit up.”

Auger insisted he get permission from his grandmother before going to the range to strike a golf ball with a club for the first time in his life.

“She could have said, ‘You’re trespassing,’ or ‘get off the golf course,’ ” said Johnson, who calls Auger a second mother. “No, she said, ‘I’ll give you a 9-iron and a bucket of balls to go to the range if you really want to hit some golf balls.’”

Kamaiu Johnson poses for a photo at the Hilaman Golf Course on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.

From Hilaman to Pebble Beach

Two weeks ago, Johnson, 27, made his PGA Tour debut, given a sponsor exemption for the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Johnson (whose first name is pronounced KUH-my-ew) has been extended the same for the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill next week and the March 18-21 Honda Classic at PGA National.

Johnson played on the Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour, which was established in 2010 to prepare African-Americans and other minorities for the more advanced tours. He has done well enough that he’s now breaking in and, like many before him, including one of his idols, Tiger Woods, breaking down stereotypes.

“We have inspirational stories that should be highlighted, but it should not be highlighted I’m a Black golfer playing on the PGA Tour because I’m just another person,” Johnson said. “I’ve never looked at race like that.

“And I know golf is very, very different. Golf hasn’t always accepted Black people. It’s starting to change but it still shouldn’t be a big deal.”

Johnson was set to make his Tour debut two weeks sooner but a positive COVID-19 test forced him out of the field at the Farmers Insurance Open. “A tragedy for me,” he said. That was forgotten when Pebble, Palmer and Honda took note.

Johnson shot a 14-over 158 and missed the cut at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Yet, he was encouraged, saying it gave him confidence knowing he will get better.

“I know I can play,” he said. “I didn’t have one penalty shot all week. I didn’t hit a ball out of bounds, and I didn’t hit the ball in a hazard and that’s huge at Pebble Beach and Spyglass.

“I couldn’t get the greens down. I three-putted seven times. It just made me stronger and made my skin thicker for when I do get out there next time.”

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Kamaiu Johnson plays his shot from the 11th tee during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament at Spyglass Hill Golf Course. Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson told he’d ‘never amount to anything’

Back in Tallahassee, Johnson moved from the range to the course at Hilaman. Members at the club cobbled together a set of “mismatched” clubs and Auger charged him $1 a day to play. The catch: He had to work for it by doing jobs around the course, like collecting the balls at night.

“He was such a natural,” Auger said. “He never had taken any lessons. I couldn’t believe that. Just a natural swing. I never wanted to mess with his game. He was a kid, I wanted him to have fun and you don’t want to overthink it.”

Said Johnson: “It came pretty naturally.”

Johnson qualified for the Florida Open at 18, got his GED at 21 and then moved to New York where he was a caddie at Elmwood Country Club in White Plains and started qualifying for tournaments.

“When I started playing golf, it opened doors for me,” he said. “You can’t let your circumstances define you. You got to be determined and you got to want to be better.

“I don’t let that determine my success just because I was a middle school dropout. I had teachers tell me, ‘you’ll never amount to anything. You’re going to end up dead or in jail.’

“That’s my motivation now. Look at me now. I’m actually an inspiration to people.”

Johnson now has an ambassador role with Farmers Insurance and his equipment is from Titleist. And like Tiger and so many others who were role models for him, he is inspiring the next generation of golfers in the Panhandle.

Kamaiu Johnson and Jan Auger. [Courtesy Jan Auger]

Marquis Taylor, who attended Tallahassee-Leon High School, earned a golf scholarship to Miles College in Birmingham, Ala. Auger said Taylor, who is Black, “adores” Johnson.

“It gives them hope,” Auger said about golf. “It’s an avenue. It’s terrible it’s not accessible to minorities and it should be. I see comments online, ‘They haven’t earned it.’ Define earned it to me?

“If anyone has earned it, it’s Kamaiu.”

No one understands that more than Johnson, who is doing more than trying to beat the odds and earn a spot on the Tour.

Johnson has started his My My Foundation to give back to kids in his community.

 “I’m a product of that love and support of people who have come together and who helped me get to where I am today,” Johnson said. “It was white people, Black people; woman, man. All kinds of people.”

The Big Listen: Racial injustice and golf

Source : Golf Week More