‘Then I found golf and that's what pretty much saved my life’
APGA Tour members, Kamaiu Johnson and Willie Mack, and their invitation to ‘train like a pro’ at TPC Sawgrass with support from the PGA TOUR and Farmers Insurance
October 13, 2020
By Jamie Handy, PGATOUR.COM
- October 13, 2020
- APGA Tour member Kamaiu Johnson. (Courtesy of APGA Tour)
Access to learn a sport can be hard.
Access to learn the sport of golf can be even harder.
The resources needed to become a professional PGA TOUR player – updated clubs, coaches, lessons, time and money – are not easily accessible for some.
Some like Kamaiu Johnson and Willie Mack.
Johnson grew up in Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, while Mack grew up in Michigan.
“Coming from Flint, Michigan, who knows what other path I could have went down if I wasn't at the golf course,” said Mack. “[I] probably [would] be out doing something I had no business doing.”
Although both are now active golfers, their limited resources to get started with the game was challenging.
“Golf is an expensive game,” said Mack. “My dad trying to pay for things by himself got hard at times.”
As lovers of the game, both Mack and Johnson wanted to pursue a career playing professional golf, but the stars didn’t always align.
“I had a pretty rough upbringing. It wasn't rough in my home, but it was just rough with discipline in my home and I dropped out of school in eighth grade,” said Johnson. “Then I found golf and that's what pretty much saved my life.”
The Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour (APGA) was established in 2011 with the ‘mission to prepare African Americans and other minority golfers to compete and win at the highest level of professional golf, both on tour and in the golf industry’.
Ken Bentley, who helped initiate the APGA Tour and currently serves at CEO, saw an opportunity to help young men like Johnson and Mack, ones who struggled to make it in golf knowing they didn’t have the same opportunities as others in order to climb the ranks and play professionally.
Bentley wanted to take down some of the barriers that stood in front of those wanting to pursue golf as a career and, for Johnson, it might have just saved his future.
“My sponsorship with Farmers [Insurance] and [access to the APGA Tour Championship] wouldn't happen without the APGA Tour,” said Johnson.
“I would still be calling around asking people for money [to try] to support my dream, but because of who Bentley is and the connections he has, he's given us a fighting chance.”
In joining the APGA Tour, Johnson, Mack and others are able to develop their golf skills in addition to career development opportunities – such as learning how to market themselves for stakeholders – all critical components to climbing the ladder to the PGA TOUR.
Both Johnson and Mack joined the APGA early on in their career, in hopes that opportunities would arise for them to make a name for themselves. Whether it was playing in sponsored tournaments or taking lessons from TOUR professionals, the APGA has been building ways to impact the career growth for its’ members.
So far, both Johnson and Mack have been successful with growing their game and making themselves known as up-and-coming players, especially Johnson who won the 2020 APGA Tour Championship and finishing 2nd on the season points standings, Mack coming in closely behind at fourth.
Farmers Insurance is an advocate for the APGA Tour and helps to sponsor players, like Johnson and Mack, in order to grow the game and opportunities for all golfers.
“Working with Farmers Insurance means the world; it changed my life this year,” said Johnson” I mean, I feel so free when I go to golf tournaments now that not having to have to worry about the expenses that come along with the travel.”
“Farmers Insurance has been a great, great opportunity for me and Kamaiu,” said Mack. “Just to see them help many Tour players and trying to help us get to the next level like Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel.”APGA Tour member Willie Mack. (Courtesy of APGA Tour)
As Mack said, golf is expensive. With the help of Farmers Insurance, Johnson and Mack are able to have a stronger focus on their game and less about the cost of travel and life on the road.
Another advocate for the APGA Tour is none other than the PGA TOUR itself. Along with Commissioner Jay Monahan’s press conference at the 2020 TOUR Championship, he committed the TOUR to be more intentional in partnerships with organizations like the APGA Tour.
“We've pledged to raise 100 million dollars over the next ten years to organizations committed to racial equity and social justice,” said Allison Keller, Chief Administrative Officer of the PGA TOUR.
“We're really excited to increase our partnership with the Advocates Professional Golf Association Tour. And this is, as you know, is a tour that's devoted to helping increase the competitive game for African Americans and other minorities.”
The TOUR has not hesitated its start to creating these new opportunities for the APGA Tour.
Last week, in collaboration with Farmers Insurance, both Johnson and Mack were invited to travel to the TOUR’s flagship event course, TPC Sawgrass, to utilize the performance center and ‘train like a pro’.
The experience at TPC Sawgrass included a round on The Stadium Golf Course and Dye’s Valley, both professionally designed courses by Pete Dye and the host of THE PLAYERS Championship and several Korn Ferry Tour events.
Johnson and Mack also had the opportunity to take a lesson with the Director of Instruction at TPC Sawgrass Todd Anderson, who is also the professional golf coach for Billy Horshel and other TOUR professionals.
“Just working with Todd for these two days, I can see my game going to another level,” said Mack.
The Performance Center offers fitness, club fittings, a Full Swing simulator, short game instruction and several other components to help improve a players game.
“Hopefully the things that they learned here, they can apply and help them get better results to move to that next level as players, and Farmers Insurance has given them that opportunity,” said Anderson.
“Golf teaches, it's a life sport and something you play your whole life. It teaches you a lot of integrity [and] honesty, things that are great life values.”
The TOUR and Farmers Insurance are both organizations that believe in providing opportunities to all in the sport of golf. With their support and organizations like the APGA, players like Johnson and Mack are able to pursue their dreams; dreams that just may have ‘saved’ their lives.
“[It’s] having a good support system along with my parents getting me into the game of golf,” said Mack.
“I think it really helped me out.”
“I'm not on the PGA TOUR yet by any means, but I have a voice in my community. People know who I am,” said Johnson.
“So I mean, it's really a dream come true. When I dropped out of school in eighth grade, I didn't know this is where I was going to be, but I knew that I couldn’t give up that mentality.”