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Kamaiu Johnson is not yet a familiar name outside the golf world. Yet the 27-year-old phenom from Tallahassee, Florida, has been playing since 9th grade, beginning by swinging a makeshift golf club outside his grandmother’s apartment complex.
Mr. Johnson, who dropped out of school in 8th grade before later earning a GED, initially started pretending to golf out of boredom. But now Mr. Johnson, an Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour golfer before turning pro, is earning respect among fans and veteran players thanks to his winning streak in tournaments last summer. Mr. Johnson spent his summer vacation earning five straight top-10 finishes and defeated such players as Tim O’Neal and former PGA Tour player Brad Adamonis.
His achievements are all the more impressive thanks to his humble beginnings, growing up down the street from a golf club that did not include Black players, even less than 15 years ago. However, now everything has changed, and Mr. Johnson knows he is in the right place at the right time.
A professional from humble beginnings
He recently turned professional, playing in his first official PGA tournament in February. “I feel like I belong out here. … It’s very motivating to me, honestly, because this is where I want to be,” said Mr. Johnson in an interview. He credits his mentor, Jan Auger, who found the then-13-year-old outside his grandmother’s complex pretending to swing a club with a large stick. Ms. Auger invited him to learn the game.
Kamaiu Johnson notes he was depressed and adrift at the time, no longer completing school and unsure where he wanted his life to go. “He did look a little sad to me when I walked up to him,” Ms. Auger said. Inviting him to play golf, she notes, “was just something to brighten his day.”
Ms. Auger brightened Mr. Johnson’s day — and helped him to change his life. “It was like, all of a sudden I had purpose,” said Mr. Johnson of his early years playing golf. “Y’know all of a sudden I wanted to be as good at golf as I could be.”
Today, Kamaiu Johnson has two sayings engraved on his cleats: Enjoy the process, and Never Give Up. He is grateful for the opportunities that changed his life, and wants to win on behalf of his family and supporters. However, Mr. Johnson is still learning the ropes of professional golf, as he did not make the cut in his most recent tournaments. Yet that will not slow down the man who notes, “I’ve never made excuses. I just try to figure it out.”