May 11th, 2016 Blog
Regardless of Tiger Wood’s personal struggles, watching the Masters this year made me wonder where his impact and brand strength went wrong. Not the personal portion, but the impact. Why are there no African American, male pro golfers?
Even reporters are surprised. In reading Michael Bamburger’s 2013 article, he waxes on about the dearth of ‘soul’ in golf. “In 1997, when Tiger won the Masters — by 12! — the floodgates were supposed to open to minority golfers in general and black golfers in particular.”
Nearly 20 years after the phenomenon that was “Tiger” came on the scene, several articles have been written about the lack of diversity in golf, and have asked why there aren’t more Tiger’s in the game. One such article states that it’s because of the lack of caddie opportunities.
Really? I’d like to have more Bagger Vance moments, when the intellect of the caddy was relied on…that’s me saying, tongue-in-cheek, the black man behind the white man playing was what propelled the wins…and more green jacket hugs that include a diverse cast of celebrators.
Don’t get me wrong, I get that there’s a cause and effect for everything. There’s even a type of succession planning for everything. Even brands. For Golf, especially the PGA Tour, it seems like there should be a stronger level of brand planning to impact diversity of the game.
I was truly excited for Danny Willett several weeks ago. It takes a lot to win the Masters. Period. And while it was great to see Jordan Spieth attempt to defend his 2015 title, at the end of the day, Willett played an awesome final round. As a former athlete, I really just love to see a good, competitive match. The excitement that the game of golf brings didn’t really hit me until I saw Tiger play. Even though I understood golf, I didn’t understand the dynamics and the history of the game. But what will it take to have the brand of golf not be associated with an all-Caucasian cast of winners?
Winning his first major in 1997, Tiger started playing golf professionally in 1996. Why is it that there are not any additional African American, young men, who have followed in his footsteps? Is the brand of Tiger so tainted that young men that look like him are no longer interested? Or is it the brand of golf itself? Is golf solely to be known as an exclusive and elusive sport? Is there such a dire lack of access to sports like golf that still prevents the sport to include diversity that looks like our country? Is it the caddie process? Or does golf just want to keep it the way that it’s always been?
One would think that with 20 years of golf fortitude, that there might be more young men that look like Tiger now vying for professional golf prowess. However, on the PGA tour, there have only been a handful of African Americans.
Tiger’s mainstream success seems like it would’ve broken that barrier. Since that’s what happened after situations like integrating the Quarterback position of the National Football League with the success of Joe ‘Jefferson Street Joe’ Gilliam, James Harris, Doug Williams, Rodney Peete, Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham.
In golf, after John Shippen (first African American to play in the US Open (1896)), Ted Rhodes (the second African American to play in the US Open (1948)), Charlie Sifford (the first African American to earn his PGA tour card (1961)), Pete Brown (the first African American to win a PGA sanctioned event (1964), Lee Elder (first African American to play in the Masters (1975)) and Calvin Peete (12 time PGA tour winner) there was Tiger. And now there is Harold Varner, III who earned his PGA tour card in 2015.
But really, there was Tiger.
Not meaning to offend, but Tiger’s ‘mainstream’ brand held no color barrier. He said so himself. “I am not black. I am ‘Cablinasian.’” I remember watching that, announced on ESPN, with utter amazement. Here is this man, who kinda looks like me saying he’s not like me at all. And maybe that’s the point.
Because his exposure was to succeed in a sport dominated by white men, maybe he never would’ve been a true inspiration for African American youth. But there was a true increase in the number of people playing golf, watching golf and enjoying a sport that was touted as an exclusive and elitist craft. An increase in golf classes and events where you could get training and information on the game of golf were readily available, but we still are not seeing African Americans on the highest stage – the PGA Tour. Twenty years after Tiger Woods turned pro, we have several young Caucasian Americans, and players from abroad, who are making their mark on the game of golf – all younger than 25 years of age. Most of these players cite Tiger as their inspiration, but where are the African American golfers in that age group? The question remains what will it take for African American’s to reach the PGA after so few have done it in the last 120 years?
I’d like to think that there are more Tiger’s somewhere out there. I’d also like to think the brand of golf will weather the storm once Tiger hangs up his bag.
Anthony “A.T.” Owens is director of operation at duGard Communications. An avid sports aficionado, he hung up his cleats several years ago and picked up a set of golf clubs instead.