Golf

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.



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