The tour announced Tuesday that Johnson tested positive for the coronavirus and had to withdraw from the tournament. It is a crushing blow for the 27-year-old from Florida who was awarded a sponsor’s exemption into the event despite never having played in the top two levels of professional golf in the United States.
“To say that I’m disappointed would be a massive understatement. I’ve dreamed of playing on the PGA Tour for a long, long time, but health and safety come first,” Johnson said in a statement release by the tour. “It’s times like these where you have to keep focusing on the bigger picture at hand, and from my experience, a fork in the road often has an interesting way of leading to new opportunities.”
A year ago at Torrey Pines, Johnson’s personality, life story and drive to play pro golf caught the attention of Farmers Insurance President and CEO Jeff Dailey, and after Johnson won the Tour Championship of the Advocates Professional Golf Association (APGA)—which provides playing opportunities for minorities—Dailey suggested to Century Club of San Diego officials that Johnson be considered for an exemption. They agreed, and Johnson learned in November that he would be in the Farmers. Sharing the new with close friends, he cried on the phone and called the opportunity “life-changing.”
Signed last year to a two-year sponsorship deal with Farmers Insurance, Johnson was to be in a field that includes three of the top 10 players in the world, with the potential to reach the weekend and make more money than he has for any of the entire seasons he’s played on mini-tours.
Johnson came from a difficult upbringing in Tallahassee, Fla., and was an eighth-grade dropout when Jan Auger, GM at Haliman Golf Course, discovered him swinging a stick next to the course in 2007. She invited him to hit balls on the range, he fell in love with the game, and has been working toward playing on the PGA Tour ever since.
Since getting the Farmers invite, Johnson was fitted for new Titleist clubs and gained another sponsorship. He also received an invite by the Korn Ferry Tour to play in its Emerald Coast Classic in April.
“Getting a brief glimpse of the Farmers Insurance Open and what it would be like to play on the PGA Tour only further ignites the fire inside me to work that much harder to chase the dream of playing on tour full-time,” Johnson said. “I am so thankful to Farmers Insurance and the entire team at the Century Club of San Diego for not only providing me with this opportunity, but also for all they’re doing to promote diversity in golf and beyond.”
As part of that, tournament officials announced that Johnson’s replacement in the Farmers field is Willie Mack III, another promiment APGA player. Mack recently was awarded the Genesis Invitational’s Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption, given each year to a minority golfer.