Jan 28, 2021
The Classic in The Palm Beaches Awards Exemption to Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour Championship Winner Kamaiu Johnson
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida — The Classic in The Palm Beaches, a PGA TOUR event which will be played March 15-21 at PGA National Resort & Spa, has awarded a sponsor’s exemption to Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour standout Kamaiu Johnson, who was scheduled to make his TOUR debut this week after receiving a sponsor exemption to play in the Farmers Insurance Open® but withdrew due to testing positive for COVID-19.
Johnson, who won the APGA Tour Championship this year, has an inspirational story that has captivated many throughout the golf world in the past year. Johnson dropped out of school after eighth grade following a tough childhood and found a better life through golf, learning the game on a golf course in Tallahassee that was a solid wedge from the two-bedroom apartment he shared with his mother, grandmother and five other kids.
His dream of playing on the PGA TOUR was delayed by a positive test. But he will get a new opportunity when he tees it up at The Classic in The Palm Beaches in March.
“Our tournament director Andrew George and I were familiar with Kamaiu from his attempts to qualify for The Honda last year,” Honda Classic Executive Director Kenneth R. Kennerly said. “When we heard what happened to him at the Farmers Insurance Open this week, we felt strongly that we wanted to give him a chance to play at The Classic in The Palm Beaches. We feel it is important to support the advancement of golfers from our home state.”
Johnson took his game to a new level in 2020, finishing in the top 10 in the final five events on the APGA Tour. Then he culminated his year by shooting a final-round 4-under-par 68, including a birdie on the final hole, to win the APGA Tour Championship.
“As I said when I first learned that I had to withdraw, a fork in the road often has an interesting way of leading to new opportunities,” Johnson said. “It was beyond disappointing not to be able to play at the Farmers Insurance Open after all of the support that Farmers® has shown me and the APGA Tour. Now, to find out that I will still have a chance to fulfill my dream of playing on the PGA TOUR is almost overwhelming. I’m so thankful for Honda and the team at the Honda Classic for taking a challenging situation and turning it into a blessing.”
It’s not a surprise that he is a late bloomer at the age of 27. He had just quit school in the eighth grade when Jan Auger, the general manager at Hilaman Golf Course in Florida’s state capitol, discovered him from a distance swinging a tree stick outside the perimeter of the course in the middle of a school day.
Johnson had a natural swing from playing baseball as a kid, a sport he had to give up when he couldn’t afford the cost of playing travel ball. Auger told Johnson that a nine-iron and bucket of balls were waiting for him at the course. It would become his new hangout and Auger cut him a deal where he would pay a dollar a week for playing privileges and she also gave him a job washing carts and painting the clubhouse.
“Golf saved me,” Johnson recently told Golf Digest. “It gave me a reason to live, gave me a purpose.”
His game developed relatively quickly and Johnson has spent the bulk of his time in recent years playing professional mini-tour events and the APGA, a tour formed to create opportunities for minority players. He won the Tallahassee Open three times.
But these events obviously don’t provide the trappings, or the prize money, of the PGA TOUR. Johnson has experienced homelessness on multiple occasions, sometimes even sleeping in the back seat of his mother’s car in between tournament rounds.
But the more people that heard his story, the more of them stepped up to help. Farmers Insurance® and Cambridge Mobile Telematics provided endorsement deals. Titleist gave him his first fitted set of clubs. He also earned about $30,000 in prize money in 2020.
“We have always been about growing the game of golf for young players and Kamaiu is such an inspiration for so many of them,” Kennerly said. “American Honda, our entire board and staff couldn’t be more excited to grant him this exemption and host him at PGA National in March. ”
The Classic in The Palm Beaches recently announced that it will welcome a limited number of fans this year due to Covid-19. With the primary focus on the health and well-being for all involved with the tournament and the local community, those levels will be determined at a later date.
The tournament awarded a record-shattering $5.35 million to 103 South Florida philanthropic organizations in 2020, the 14th consecutive year that the PGA TOUR event has been able to increase its impact on the lives of local children and their families. Honda Classic Cares is also considering additional ways to raise money this year to minimize the impact of a possible reduced charity distribution because of limited crowds and hospitality venues.
The Classic in The Palm Beaches has now surpassed $50 million in charitable contributions as American Honda approaches its 40th year as title sponsor of the PGA TOUR event, including almost $35 million in the 14 years since Children’s Healthcare Charity, Inc. became the host organization and moved the event to PGA National Resort and Spa. The $5.35 million is impacting more than 91,000 children and their families this year in Palm Beach County.