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Pro golfer Kamaiu Johnson doesn't think Masters will leave Georgia despite uproar over voting law

·3 min read

Corporate America is facing new pressure to fight back against a wave of restrictive voting measures such as a law recently passed in Georgia viewed by critics as an attempt to disenfranchise Black voters. On Wednesday, Delta (DAL) CEO Ed Bastian blasted the Georgia law after the Atlanta-based airline and other corporations faced criticism over their silence.

The pressure is on the sports world, too, with the National Black Justice Coalition calling on the PGA Tour and the Masters Tournament to pull the upcoming championship at the Augusta National Golf Club from Georgia to another state. (The Masters is run by the Augusta National Golf Club, not the PGA.)

While professional golfer Kamaiu Johnson doesn’t believe the event will be relocated from Georgia, he told Yahoo Finance this week that the world of golf needs to talk about diversity.

“I think the more conversations we have about making golf more [diverse] and making it more inclusive for all is the way that gets better. It’s just bringing the conversation up to people who don’t really want to have the conversation,” Johnson told Yahoo Finance.

Trevor Immelman (R) of South Africa receives the green jacket from former champion Zach Johnson (L) after Immelman won the 2008 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 13, 2008.     REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES)
Trevor Immelman (R) of South Africa receives the green jacket from former champion Zach Johnson (L) after Immelman won the 2008 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 13, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES)

The golf world notoriously lacks diversity, though the sport has seen an upswing in women and young adult participation amid the pandemic. Golf’s professional field, in particular, has consisted largely of white players, with Tiger Woods being the sole African American competitor among 156 players at the PGA Championship in 2018.

For his part, Johnson, who is Black, says that golf has changed his life. “I’m an eighth grade dropout,” he said, “but when I got involved in the game of golf, it really, really changed my life for the better.”

At the age of 13, Johnson was spotted by a woman named Jan Auger, the general manager of Hilaman Golf Course in Tallahassee, Florida, as he was practicing swings with a stick near the course.

“Jan Auger charged me $1 a day to play golf,” he said. “She showed me tough love and that’s what I needed to be the person I am today.”

Johnson has come a long way since practicing swings with a stick: he won the Advocates Pro Golf Association (APGA) Tour Championship last September and has played in several PGA Tour events. His major sponsors include Cisco (CSCO), Farmers Insurance, and Titleist.

“It took a village to really get me where I am, no matter if the person was white, Black, or whoever it was. That’s what I want for the country I live in,” said Johnson. “America...to be a village [for] each other because that’s the only way we can grow. That’s the only way the game of golf is going to grow.”

The PGA Tour and Augusta National Golf Club are not alone in facing pressure to condemn Georgia’s new voting law. In a recent letter signed by 72 Black business leaders, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier and former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault urged corporate America to push back against bills imposing voting restrictions in dozens of states.

Georgia’s new law passed last week comes amid a nationwide push to limit voting rights, widely seen by liberals and voting rights advocates as a thinly veiled attempt to silence the votes of minorities. The Georgia measure imposes new ID rules for absentee voting and limits the ability to use ballot drop boxes, among other changes.

Civil rights groups have filed at least three lawsuits seeking to overturn the Georgia law, and President Joe Biden denounced voter suppression bills at his first press conference last week.

“This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” Biden said.

Clarification: This article has been clarified to note that Masters is run by the Augusta National Golf Club, not the PGA.

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