Kevin Hall's path to the Genesis Open was anything but easy

Kevin Hall, who is deaf, will tee it up this week at the Genesis Open after getting the Charlie Sifford exemption into the PGA Tour field. Jason Sobel/ESPN.com

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- The powers-that-be at the Genesis Open -- a group that includes new tournament host Tiger Woods -- had a terrific idea. They decided to rename their annual exemption for a golfer representing a minority background in honor of the legendary Charlie Sifford.

Then they had an even better idea.

They gave the exemption to Kevin Hall.

Hall is African-American, a demographic barely represented on the PGA Tour right now. He's also deaf, the result of contracting H-Flu Meningitis before his third birthday.

And he's the consummate never-give-up professional golfer, a 34-year-old who toils on the mini-tours, hasn't played a PGA Tour event in 11 years and still owns the dream of regularly competing on the game's highest level.

"You kind of have to get there one step at a time, so that's what I'm going through right now. One day, hopefully, I'll get there," Hall said during a Wednesday news conference.

Actually, he didn't say it. With a ubiquitous smile splashed across his face, Hall signed his words to an interpreter, who spoke them aloud. All of Hall's words came via sign language, from his greatest inspirations in the game to his deepest frustrations with it to his reaction to the news of his exemption into this week's field.

"I almost choked up. I needed to drink some water," he said of first reading the email. "I was like, 'Wow, I'm in.' The first person I told was my mom. I told her, 'Now I've got to go practice.'"

That mentality is nothing new. When Kevin was 5, his parents, Percy and Jackie, sat him down and asked a weighty question of a child so young: "What do you want to do with your life?"

Their son paused for a moment, then offered his answer.

"I want to live my life," he told them. "I don't want to sit in a corner for the rest of my life."

Jackie still recalls that day: "We said, 'If that's what you want to do, anything you're big enough and bad enough to be exposed to, we'll expose you to it.' That's what we've done."

Kevin Hall isn't a charity case. He isn't simply a feel-good story who will get to play among the game's best this week at Riviera Country Club.

While at Ohio State in 2004, Hall won the Big 10 Championship title by 11 strokes. He routinely holds his own at Web.com Tour Q-School qualifying, without quite breaking through to the next level. Last year, he won two professional events, including one in Los Angeles, where he set a new course record.

"We enjoy watching Kevin compete," his mother said. "We enjoy watching him overcome the hearing loss. We enjoy watching him not let that be a handicap. He was taught to just use that as a positive and use it the best you can. He's never allowed deafness to stop him."

She calls her son's sense of humor "second to none," and if his laughter that penetrated the interview room throughout his answers didn't prove it, then some of his stories should.

Take, for instance, the time he was playing a tournament in New York. He was about to tee off the 10th hole when, right in his backswing, he noticed some movement in the gallery behind him. Unbeknownst to him, it was a spectator whose cell phone rang and who was indiscreetly trying to turn it off.

"People were like, 'Why did Kevin stop?'" he recalled. "But I saw him move."

Or there's the time he was playing in a pro-am, and the first tee marshal was ferociously waving a sign that read, "QUIET."

"I said, 'Hey, I'm deaf. It doesn't matter,'" Hall remembered. "He just slowly pulled it down. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass him."

With that, Hall laughed again, an infectious laugh that filled the room.

He admits that he's a little nervous about competing this week, but he also feels confident in his game. More than that confidence, though, he's comfortable -- comfortable with his game and comfortable with himself.

"He's very comfortable in his skin, and he loves life," Jackie said. "Even though he's our child, we just marvel at him. He doesn't put the burden on you to understand what he's saying. He puts the burden on himself so that you can understand him."

There were undoubtedly numerous qualified candidates for this year's Charlie Sifford exemption, but there's little chance anyone deserved it more.

Hall is a minority, a deaf African-American in a game scarce on diversity. And yet, in many ways, he's just like so many others. He's a long-time professional golfer still hoping for that one opportunity that propels him to the next level and helps make that dream come true.

It's something he has been thinking about for a long time. He knew that he was hooked when he first picked up a club. Not long after that, he understood that he wanted to make golf his life.

"I really knew that I felt it, like, this is the game for me," he signed. "I knew I wanted to do this for a living."