Without Clubs, He Practiced With a Stick. Now, His PGA Debut

Kamaiu Johnson had a Good Samaritan on his side as a kid
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 11, 2021 12:10 PM CST
As a Kid, He Practiced With a Stick. Now, His PGA Debut
A screenshot of Kamaiu Johnson. He makes his PGA debut on Thursday.   (YouTube/Golf Channel)

Among the golfers teeing off Thursday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am will be 27-year-old Kamaiu Johnson, who'll be making his debut on the PGA Tour. But as NPR explains, Johnson's how-I-got-here story is more unusual than most. It began when an assistant golf pro at a course in Tallahassee, Fla., spotted a kid watching golfers and mimicking their swings with what appeared to be a club. But when Jan Auger approached, she realized the kid—then a 13-year-old Johnson—was swinging only a stick. At that point in his life, there was no way he or his family could afford clubs. In fact, Johnson had dropped out of high school because he was deemed a slow learner and put in "exceptionally slow learning" classes, though he lied about being home-schooled when Auger asked. Auger, noticing his natural swing, offered to let him hit a bucket of balls.

"He did look a little sad," she recalls. "It was just something to brighten his day, I guess." In an essay at the Players' Tribune, Johnson (who would go on to get his GED) writes that the moment of generosity changed his life, and not only because that bucket of balls got him "hooked" on the game. "When she came into my life," he tells NPR, "it was like a beam of light came into my life." Auger let him do chores around the course in exchange for playing time, and 14 years later, here we are. The NPR story and Johnson's essay detail other factors that helped, including a boost from the Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour, whose mission is to help Black and other minority golfers. One last hurdle: Johnson was supposed to make his debut last month, but a positive COVID test delayed things. He's good to go now. "I feel like I belong out here," he tells Golfweek. (Read more uplifting news stories.)

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