Kamaiu Johnson didn’t start playing golf until 15 years old, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing a future in the game.
His passion took him to New York, where he caddied to support his career, before returning to Florida. After moving from Tallahassee to Orlando, he met a group of golfers who told him about the Advocates Professional Golf Association Tour.
“When I first turned pro, it was the only tour that the guys looked like me,” Johnson said. “It felt like home.”
On Monday morning, Johnson – donning a light blue polo shirt, navy shorts and white golf shoes – was one of the first golfers to tee off Hole No. 1 at TPC Scottsdale’s Champions Course, the venue for the latest event of the APGA Tour held Monday and Tuesday.
Founded in 2010, the APGA works to increase diversity in golf through tournaments hosted at state-of-the-art courses, player development programs and access to sports psychologists. Other benefits include training and club replacement, according to APGA Tour executive director Cole Smith.
The tour currently operates 18 events with over $ 700,000 in prize money, $ 25,000 of which is at stake on Monday and Tuesday in Scottsdale.
Smith said the APGA Tour is “all inclusive.”
“We’re trying to provide diversity at the highest level on the PGA Tour, which means that we’re looking at African American players and other minorities that have that skill set to perform at the highest level on the tour, as well as within the golf industry, “Smith said.
He added that the APGA Tour provides the opportunity for golfers to hone their skills before attempting to join the PGA Tour, the top level of golf tournaments in the world.
Smith believes that more platforms need to be created for APGA players to show their skills and perform on top courses in the country. One way to achieve this, Smith said, is with more sponsor’s exemptions, in which tournament sponsors offer spots for players outside of a certain field in an event.
This happened recently, when Johnson and Ryan Alford each received an exemption to play in the 2022 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego.
“It was life-changing,” Alford said. “It definitely benefited me and showed me that it’s a matter of time before I’m back out there.”
One of the things Alford appreciates most about the APGA Tour is the location of its events. So far this season, tournaments have been held at TPC courses in Arizona, California and Louisiana. Future venues include Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. and TPC San Antonio.
According to Alford, playing these courses help prepare APGA golfers for bigger tournaments in the future.
“We play some of the finest facilities the United States has to offer, so giving these young people an opportunity to hone their game on something like this is quite an opportunity,” said Michael Cooper, the APGA Tour’s Tournament Director. “I’m also proud of … the visibility that we get. Several of them have gone on to get sponsors and financial support as a result of being exposed to a different and a broader sector of a golfing population because of us.”
One of those golfers is Johnson, who signed a two-year endorsement deal with Farmers worth $ 25,000 annually.
Johnson, the winner of the 2020 APGA Tour Championship, believes that the tour can not only help more minority golfers get onto the PGA Tour and into the golf industry, but also inspire people to play the game “no matter where you come from.”
Joining Alford, Johnson and other golfers on the Champions Course this week is Notah Begay, an on-course reporter for the Golf Channel who previously played on the PGA Tour. Begay, a special guest competitor for the 36-hole event, played with Tiger Woods at Stanford.
Playing in this week’s APGA event brings back a special memory for Alford, who earned his first professional victory last year at TPC Scottsdale.
Meanwhile, Johnson – the winner of last week’s tour event at TPC Las Vegas – is proud of the progress the APGA is making.
“It just means more opportunities for minorities,” Johnson said. “You can’t get on the PGA Tour unless you’re playing PGA Tour-style golf courses. This APGA tour, that’s what it provides. It’s a very competitive tour and we play at good golf courses.”