Jupiter, Fla – Recently I attended a PGA event called the Honda Classic. It is considered one of the top events on the tour that is not a “Major.” This year the tournament had a field that featured eight of the top 10 golfers in the world, including Tiger Woods. The great Jack Nicklaus was even in attendance, not to mention the estimated 250,000 fans who showed up for the four-day event. Perfect weather, great crowds and good golf until the final nine holes was what they came to see.
There was one thing missing … no African Americans. Oh, there were the ones you normally see at Forest Park or Norwood Hills Country Club, who dress the part as they keep up with whatever Tiger is wearing this week. I learned long ago, no matter what you think and wear and how much you pay for it, golf is a sport where you cannot buy a game to go with your nice outfit, even Tiger’s.
It has been 18 years since Tiger Woods came onto the scene for the game of golf. The sport was struggling with its identity, image and lack of a face for the game – until Tiger hit town. He opened the doors for a younger, less affluent audience, as well as people of color. Not just for people from the inner city, but for people all around the world, Tiger Woods was here to save the game.
TV ratings went up, revenue went up, courses were being built at a rapid pace to accommodate the new participants and, yes, Black people were starting to pick up clubs and take up the sport. Some made the mistake of not taking lessons, but that is a story for another day. Millions of dollars have been poured into youth and minority golf programs, and never was there a greater race than to see who the next Tiger Woods would be.
Well, after 18 years of searching, the results are in: absolutely no one.
No other African American has won a PGA event since Tiger Woods made his debut. We have seen players from places like the Fiji Islands win, people who come from places that are hard to find on a big map; people from around the globe who have been inspired by Tiger Woods to play golf are winning tournaments. But there has not been an African American who has even made the cut in a PGA event. Surely you would think that after all the time, money and energy invested in such a project, there would be at least one, but that is not the case.
To make matters even more concerning, it is hard to find a Black caddie on the tour. This was a job that Whites would have had nothing to do with years ago, as this was a way many Blacks learned how to play the game when the course was closed to patrons and members. That job is no longer to be had.
Considering the fact that the money is so much better for the players, some caddies now make at least 10 percent of the winnings that week. Russell Henley won just over a million dollars for winning the Honda Classic last week. Simple math tells me that his caddie could have pocketed $100,000 dollars. Now you know why the Black caddie has almost gone the way of the dinosaur in some tour events.
One thing is for sure, golf is a very challenging sport to play when it comes to making money. There are only 125 players on the tour who have qualified to play. Others are sent to what some would consider a golfer’s Devil’s Island, which is called “Q” school – a grueling series of golf rounds, where last man standing is the winner. Winning at “Q” school only affords you the opportunity to go out and play on the tour if there is a spot open. Making the cut to play for money on the weekend is the next near mission impossible.
Cashing a check is next, provided you cash enough checks during the year where you are one of the top 125 money winners. If not, see you at “Q” school again. One can only compete at this for so long before other career options are considered.
The fact that there are not enough African Americans inside the ropes at PGA events is concerning. While the game has grown among those who do not make a living at it, we are still short on names of who may be the next Tiger Woods. I say that only in color terms and not in skill, as there may not ever be a golfer who dominated the game like he has.
I am not sure what the next step to remedy this problem should be. I am out of answers, as I have seen African Americans excel at virtually every other sport they have been introduced to on a fair basis.
The golf industry has made millions off of African Americans since Tiger’s arrival, when it comes to merchandise and participation. The sport has also reinvested into that same community, and yet the wait continues to have more professional participation, be it as player, caddy or administrator.