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Michigan native Aya Johnson navigates career as Golf Channel producer

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Aya Johnson was part of a team that produced 50 hours of programming for the NBC Sports Group’s Golf Channel during the week of the recent Masters Tournament.

She enjoyed every minute.

“During weeks like that it’s a lot of time working, but I enjoyed it and I have a job and a career that I love,” she said.

Johnson, 25, the 2017 Michigan Women’s Amateur Champion from North Muskegon and former University of Wisconsin golfer, thought for several years that she wanted to be an orthodontist.

Then along her journey, including going through a back injury that sidelined her from golf for two years during her college career, and a comeback that included winning the Michigan Amateur, she transitioned to wanting a way to stay in the game.

“I didn’t want to be a professional golfer – the back problems were part of that – but I wanted to have a career in golf and that led me to working in sports media,” she said. “I took a few media classes and loved it.”

Her current position is as an assistant producer for the NBC Sports Group’s Golf Channel. She works primarily in a graphics production role, including leaderboards, statistics and more, but with her golf knowledge she is also called on for other off-air tasks like editing broadcast highlights.

“I know I still want to be golf media 10 years from now, but right now I’m still exploring if I will continue to be part of producing, or shift to on-air work,” she said. “I do know I want to be part of the diversity of sports media as an Asian woman. I feel that’s important.”

Her mother, Nina, a radiation oncologist, immigrated from Japan at age seven, and met Aya’s father Trip, a Muskegon businessman and golfer, years later in Ann Arbor.

Aya is active on social media, and Twitter followers of hers know that her mother is a big fan of Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama. She shared tweets through the Masters regarding her mother’s emotional ride as a television watcher, and she loved the airport photo of Matsuyama that made social media rounds on Monday following the Masters.

“I thought that was just great with the green jacket on the chair,” she said. “In Japan Hideki is just huge, bigger than Tiger Woods. It’s so great for golf that he won, and for Asians who golf, too.”

Aya was born in Ann Arbor, but grew up in North Muskegon, went to North Muskegon High School and played high school golf as part of a cooperative team at Muskegon Catholic Central High. She was a standout at the junior level, won the Michigan Junior Girls State Amateur in 2010, was prep golf’s Miss Golf in Michigan in 2012 and won the Division 4 individual title. She also played in the Girls Junior PGA Championship and picked Wisconsin from a final three collegiate programs that also included the University of Michigan and Notre Dame.

“Wisconsin was in a town between two lakes, and it felt like home and I was immediately comfortable there even though it was the school farthest from home,” she said. “I wanted to be part of a big sports family, and it had that, too. It was just the right fit.”

She progressed, ever improving in the golf program through her first two seasons but was lifting weights on campus in March of 2015 and suffered a herniated disc in her lower back. She was 19 and doctors said the initial course of action should be rehabilitation and nerve root injections. After six months with pain, left leg numbness, balance and sleep issues it was determined surgery was required. She was told it was likely she would not be able to play golf again.

Aya Johnson (Golf Association of Michigan)

With recovery time she missed two golf seasons but mounted a comeback, including a swing change with a shorter takeaway and a longer handle-putter to ease stress on the back. She returned for a season as a starter and was one of the top scorers on the team. In the next two summers she won the Michigan Women’s Amateur, and twice qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

With an injury waiver she could have played one more year at Wisconsin, but a producer job with the former Morning Drive show came along on the Golf Channel, then based in Orlando, Florida.

“I had my degree and it was a great opportunity,” she said.

She isn’t sure if her first two years in the sports media industry are comparable to those of others because much of it has been working in the context of a global pandemic. When the Golf Channel became part of NBC Sports she moved from Orlando to Stamford, Conn., where the NBC Sports Group is located. She feels golf has helped her to find a career she loves, but also much more.

“I’ve me so many people and some of my closest friends through golf, playing in GAM and AJGA tournaments, playing at Wisconsin, meeting girls from other schools,” she said. “Plus golf gives my family something to bond over. We all love watching golf and talking about it. Mom is playing it now. She used to think it was easy and couldn’t understand how I could miss a short putt or make a bad shot. She’s learning now how hard the game is to play.”

Aya plans to keep playing, in part because it is an outlet for a person who describes herself as competitive in everything. She came home to Michigan last summer while working remotely during the pandemic and teed it up at her family’s home course, Muskegon Country Club, in the GAM Women’s Championship. Her father caddied, and mom followed in the gallery as always.

“I think it helps me working in golf to know the game, play the game, stay connected to it, stay competitive, and well, it’s just me,” she said. “I want to keep beating my coworkers. You know me, I have to be the best player in the office.”

original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/04/18/michigan-native-aya-johnson-navigates-career-as-golf-channel-producer/

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