Professional golfer Kamaiu Johnson, shown here competing in the 2020 Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, is no stranger to the GCSAA Golf Championships, which conclude today in Orlando. Johnson’s home course in ChampionsGate Golf Club, which is hosting the final round of the National Championship. Photo courtesy of Farmers Insurance
As one of the largest amateur golf tournaments in the country, the GCSAA Golf Championships hold a notable spot on the competitive golf calendar. This year’s edition being contested in Orlando, for example, is utilizing four different golf courses
and features more than 500 competitors
But to expect the game’s top players, the ones who make their living playing professionally, to know anything about the event is a bit of a stretch. While a definite highlight in the world of golf course management, most professional golfers are
far too preoccupied with winning tournaments or maintaining their playing status to care about — or even know about — the GCSAA Golf Championships.
Kamaiu Johnson, however, is not just any professional golfer, for this and a whole bunch of other reasons.
“Oh sure, I know all about this tournament,” says the 29-year-old Johnson, a regular on the PGA Tour’s Latinoamérica circuit whose home course is Orlando’s ChampionsGate Golf Club, which is playing host to today’s
final round of the GCSAA National Championship.
“I play a lot of golf over at Mayfair Country Club, where Chris Zinna is the (GCSAA Class A) superintendent. He and I are good friends, play a lot of golf together, and he's always talking about the GCSAA championships and how he's getting ready
for that (Zinna, an eight-year member, is competing in the National Championship this week), so that's how I heard about GCSAA and the tournament.”
Johnson’s path to a career in golf is as unique as his knowledge of the GCSAA golf event among professional golfers. It’s a tale that has been told in the pages of Golf Digest and on Golf Channel, and one that has featured plenty of challenges
and hardships along the way. But it’s one that now seems on the verge of great success.
“Long story short, my grandmother moved near a municipal golf course (in Tallahassee, Fla.), and I took it upon myself to go downstairs and swing a stick one day. I had played a lot of baseball, but at this point, it was just something to do,”
Johnson says. “This lady by the name of Jan Auger saw me, came over and asked, "Hey, why aren't you in school?" And I told her, "I'm home-schooled," even though I had dropped out in the eighth grade. And she goes, "Well, do you want to go to
the driving range and hit some balls?" I said, ‘Absolutely!’
“She gave me a nine iron and a bucket of balls ... and later that week she said, ‘I see something in you that I don't see in a lot of people, and if you want to play, I’ll charge you a dollar a day to play here.’ And that’s
when my life turned around. With the people I was meeting, the mentors who helped me, my life began to change. I went back to school, got my GED. Life just got better once I found golf.”
Since then, Johnson has made up for lost time in competitive golf. He’s been a regular on several mini tours and has played regularly with the Advocates Pro Golf Association, a tour designed to offer playing opportunities to minority golfers. He
won that circuit’s Tour Championship in 2022.
He continues to chase his professional dream today through the developmental tour in Latin America — he made the cut in two of the first three events of the 2022-2023 season in Argentina — and sponsor exemptions for PGA Tour events he periodically
receives. His relationship with Farmers Insurance and the APGA led him to San Diego for the Farmers Insurance Open in January, where he played in an APGA-affiliated event contested in conjunction with the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines won by Max
As for the insights he’s received about the GCSAA Golf Championships through his friendship with Zinna and other superintendents, there have been practical, agronomic benefits, too.
“I like to pick their brains as on different types of grasses, Poa annua, how things change throughout the course of the day, stuff like that,” Johnson says. “Because of my background in the game, a lot of this is still new to me. I
don’t mind being the dumbest person in the room when I know I have smart people who can help me, and that’s how I approach things like golf course maintenance and how it can affect my round. I just try to be a sponge, ask questions and
learn everything I can.”
Scott Hollister is GCM's editor-in-chief