By Ken Reed

Kamaiu Johnson was on a path likely heading nowhere.

He’d dropped out of school by age 13. His father had skipped town and his family was loving but poor. At times, Johnson lived with as many as nine other family members in a cramped two-bedroom apartment.

“I was so lost in life,” Johnson said. “So depressed at a young age.”

But then Jan Auger entered his life.

Auger was an assistant golf professional at Hilaman Golf Course in Tallahasse, Florida. She was playing a round at Hilaman with some friends when she saw Johnson swinging a stick just outside the golf course, imitating the golfers he saw go by on the course. Auger noticed his smooth swing as she got closer. Auger said:

“When you’re around golf you notice people who have a fluid swing. Not mechanical. And as I got closer, I realized that he wasn’t swinging a golf club. It was just a stick.”

Auger walked up to Johnson and asked him if he wanted to swing a real golf club instead of a stick.

“He did look a little sad to me when I walked up to him,” Auger said. “It was just something to brighten his day, I guess.”

That not only brightened Johnson’s day, it changed his life.

After hitting an initial bucket of balls on the driving range that Auger brought him, Johnson received another offer from Auger: Do chores around the course and you can hit range balls for free and play for $1 a round. Johnson hopped on it.

“It was like, all of a sudden I had purpose,” he said. “Y’know all of a sudden I wanted to be as good at golf as I could be.”

Well, jump ahead several years now and Johnson has just finished playing in the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am tournament.

I kid you not.

Johnson won The Advocates Pro Golf Association (APGA) Tour championship last fall. The APGA was created in 2010 “to prepare African Americans and other minority golfers to compete and win at the highest level of professional golf.” After winning the APGA championship, Johnson earned a sponsor’s exemption to play in the PGA’s Farmers Insurance Open. But his excitement was taken away when he had to sit that out that event when it was discovered shortly before starting the tournament that he had tested positive for Covid. Fortunately, a few weeks later, the AT&T at Pebble Beach tournament stepped up and gave him a chance to compete in his first PGA Tour event.

Johnson missed the cut at Pebble Beach but that fact takes very little away from this cool story.

A white woman sees a young Black child swinging a stick like a golf club near a golf course. She offers him a job and chance to practice for free and play for a buck. The inspired and generous offer ignites a passion in the youngster. He proceeds to put his heart and soul into the game of golf and ends up playing in a PGA tournament on perhaps the most famous golf course in America against some of the best players in the world, including Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth.

Today, Johnson considers Auger his second mom.

“It just kind of tears me up,” says Auger. “I just want him to be proud of himself and to realize what he’s done.”

It’s a beautiful sports story. One driven by the soul, not the ego.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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