LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA | Of all the ways Willie Mack III envisioned getting his first start on the PGA Tour – and those nights when he slept in his car while chasing a golf career gave him plenty of time to wonder – this wasn’t one of them.
Mack finds himself in the field in the Farmers Insurance Open this week because his friend Kamaiu Johnson, who had been granted a sponsor exemption, was forced to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19.
Johnson’s disappointment was later overshadowed when he posted on social media that his mother had been taken to the hospital as she battles the virus while he is in quarantine.
“This is turning into a nightmare from hell. My mom has just been rush(ed) to the hospital not being able to breathe due to COVID-19. Pray for my family please,” Johnson posted late Tuesday.
It would have been Johnson’s first PGA Tour start and, like Mack, he was at Torrey Pines a year ago, playing a one-day Advocates Professional Golf Association event on the North Course while the Farmers was finishing on the South Course.
They talked then about their personal and professional paths, playing the predominantly Black APGA mini tour, eventually earning sponsorship deals with Farmers Insurance. The company has aligned itself with the APGA and worked to provide more opportunities for minority golfers.
After a difficult week, Johnson got good news Thursday when the Honda Classic announced it will give him a spot in its field in March.
“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 posted on social media.
Meanwhile, Mack – who was given the Charlie Sifford exemption into the Genesis Invitational in two weeks at Riviera Country Club for what would have been his first PGA Tour start – inherited what both saw as the chance of a lifetime.
“I know it’s a dream come true for both of us … and it’s just an unfortunate situation. I’m friends with Kamaiu, so I talk to him all the time, and I know he was so excited to play this week and I was cheering him on,” Mack said.
“I’m just going to go out there this week and not only play for me, but also play for him.”
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