An in depth look at why Tiger Woods is not enough. This largely over looked article points out many facts as I have noticed them in the years since Tiger Woods was first proclaimed as the saviour of modern golf.
While Tiger has won again and again, golf continues to lag balance and diversity.
BY PAUL NEWBERRY and DOUG FERGUSON
ATLANTA — William Lewis started playing golf with nothing but a 9-iron and he never stopped swinging, even when his favorite sport doled out a racist hazing.
Now a graying golfer, he spreads that same passion to dozens of kids from a predominantly black neighborhood in Martin Luther King Jr.’s hometown.
Somewhere in the nearly 50-year span of his career, he thought it would get easier. But there’s just that one role model.
"It really is surprising,” said Lewis, who teaches the sport to inner-city youths at The First Tee Atlanta.
So many expected Woods’ historic victory in the 1997 Masters — and the 13 majors since then — to inspire other African-Americans to follow him into a game that was reserved for whites over more than a century.
"I’ll see him hitting from the tee box, and he hits it on the green,” said 12-year-old Tadesse McKinney, one of Lewis’ pupils. "I’m like, wow, I just want to go out there and try that. I want to try to be like Tiger Woods, make a hole-in-one and stuff like that.”
Yet in the dozen years since Woods slipped on a green jacket at Augusta National and paid tribute to the black pioneers who broke down golf’s racial barriers, no other African-American has earned PGA Tour membership.
Not a single black woman plays on the LPGA Tour.
Neither of the top two developmental tours have black golfers in the pipeline, either.
"Tiger was the greatest gift ever for the PGA Tour,” said Orin Starn, who heads the cultural anthropology program at Duke University. "With him as its face, the PGA Tour didn’t have to deal with issues of diversity, or worrying about the tour looking like the rest of America. They could say, ‘See, the problem is fixed. We have an African-American who is No. 1 in the world.’
"But the problem still exists,” he said. "If anything, it’s gotten worse.”
There were eight black players on tour in 1975, the year Lee Elder was the first black golfer in the Masters and the year Woods was born.
Now there is only Tiger.
"I think it’s become harder to play out here,” Woods said when asked to explain the decline of African-American golfers on tour. "Playing opportunities and development and being able to learn the game and mature in the game has become more difficult.”
He mentioned the preponderance of golf carts, which has eliminated the kind of caddie programs that produced players from Lee Trevino to Charlie Sifford.
"And then the cost of getting involved in the game, and then the maintenance of a person trying to play day in and day out,” Woods said. "It’s not easy.”
During the early 1960s, right in the midst of the civil rights movement, Lewis plucked crabgrass out of the greens in exchange for playing privileges at the country club in Huntsville, Ala. He was the first black golfer on his high school team, playing with mismatched clubs because he couldn’t afford a set of his own. And he endured racism along the way, everything from nasty looks to waiting out an impromptu canvassing of the membership at a south Georgia club before a pro tournament in the mid-’80s.
"The members of that course had to vote to see whether they were going to let the black guys play. You see, they had never had a black guy play on that course,” remembered Lewis, who now teaches in a program that started in the wake of Woods’ first Masters triumph. "A lot of times we would go to places and they didn’t want you there. You could just tell.”
That was all supposed to change with Woods’ success and celebrity.
"How far have we come? All you have to do is look to realize we have not gone anywhere,” said Eddie Payton, the longtime golf coach at historically black Jackson State University in Mississippi. "We’re right in the same spot we were before.”
Where are all the black golfers who were going to diversify a sport that once put out a "Whites Only” sign with no shame?
"It would be nice to see a few more of my buddies trying to play out here,” said Tim O’Neal, who turned pro in 1997. He’s still scraping by on the mini-tours.
"But I’ve always been the only one since I was, like, 7 years old,” O’Neal said.
The simplest reason is money.
Sifford, who helped end the Caucasian-only policy and became the first PGA Tour member in 1961, only had two sponsors in his career. Tony Smith, an African-American in his early 40s, was toiling on the mini-tours until qualifying for the Buick Invitational last month by using clubs that were not properly fitted for him. Only when he made the field at Torrey Pines did Callaway offer its services.
Although programs such as The First Tee have helped expose the game to inner-city youths, there is still the matter of buying clubs and balls — lots of balls — and finding a course that is affordable. Even then, getting a ride to the club can be an ordeal for many low-income kids. Adults, too.
"All the calls that come in here are about the expense,” said Debert Cook, publisher of African American Golfer’s Digest. "A lot of guys need sponsorship, transportation, tournament registration fees. Their day jobs interfere with playing regularly at a quality course. They’re trying to juggle family and profession. That’s the problem.”
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said when Woods came along, it took care of one problem: finding a role model.
"But the other one, which was just as big, was access to facilities,” Finchem said. "You do what you can to take advantage of the role model. But you’ve got to get golf to kids, and it’s a slow process.”
He used Woods and his late father, Earl, as an example.
"It took Earl 20 years to bring Tiger to that point — and that’s one kid starting at age 2,” Finchem said. "It’s a long, tough pull to make a huge impact on the look of the tour.”
Woods started his own foundation in 1996. At first, he focused on junior golf to teach character development. It then evolved toward education, and he opened the Tiger Woods Learning Center in 2006. It has never been his goal to find the next Tiger.
"You either want it or you don’t. You can’t teach that,” Woods said. "But you can teach them how to be a leader.”
Besides, making it to the PGA Tour is tough no matter the skin color. Only about 200 players have full status on the PGA Tour every year, and prospects come from everywhere — Padraig Harrington of Ireland, Geoff Ogilvy of Australia, Angel Cabrera of Argentina and K.J. Choi of South Korea are among 74 foreign-born players on tour this year.
"Our sport is becoming more global,” Woods said. "It’s only going to become more difficult for African-Americans now, because golf has opened up around the world.”
Not entirely. Only three Hispanic players are on the PGA Tour.
Some wonder if those running the sport and all the ancillary businesses — equipment makers, vendors, those behind the counter — are doing enough to change the look of golf.
"I have some doubts about the sincerity of efforts to produce African-Americans who are good enough to play on Tour,” said Jackson State’s Payton. "It’s all just window dressing and guilt money. You throw a lot of guilt money at it, which shows the consumer that you are concerned — but not enough to make a difference.”
The 12 men on the PGA Tour’s executive committee are all white, as are the 46 staff members depicted in its media guide. The PGA of America has some 28,000 members, but a minuscule 145 — less than 1 percent — are black. The USGA has only had three black members on its executive committee — none now, although the chair of its women’s committee, Barbara Douglas, is an African-American. There are only a handful of black-owned golf courses in the United States. Most coaches and trainers and equipment reps are white.
"You go to a golf trade show and it looks like a white people’s convention,” Duke’s Starn said. "There are no people of color, besides Asians, in the golf industry. They need to be more inclusive.”
Joe Louis Barrow agreed. The son of legendary boxer Joe Louis heads up The First Tee program, which was launched in those euphoric days after Woods’ first Masters victory.
"Golf needs to reflect the face of the country,” Barrow said. "People like to gravitate to environments where they feel comfortable, where they feel welcome. And there are studies out there that reflect (black) people don’t feel at home in golf.”
With good reason.
The PGA Tour made it to the 1960s with a Caucasian-only clause. And it wasn’t until 1990, when the selection of all-white Shoal Creek as host of the PGA Championship sparked protests, that anyone thought it might be a good idea to make sure clubs hosting tournaments didn’t discriminate on the basis of race.
(Augusta National, home of the Masters, is still without a female member and proudly protected its turf against Martha Burk and a media onslaught in 2003).
"Historically, golf has been a racist, elitist sport,” said Gary Player, the South African who won nine major titles. "Go back in history and look at the country club rules — no women … no minorities, no children. Etcetera. Etcetera.”
While much of the overt racism has been swept aside, one black golfer said it still exists just below the surface.
"We are not welcomed with open arms,” said Paula Pearson-Tucker, who plays part-time on the female Futures Tour. "When you walk out there, everyone looks at you like, ‘What are you doing here?’ After a while, you get tired of that.”
She believes golf may have lost some promising young black players over the years because they didn’t want to put up with that sort of subtle discrimination.
"I’m a lot older. I had been through a lot before I became a golfer,” the 52-year-old Pearson-Tucker said. "But a lot of people just won’t put up with it.”
Then there’s the attitude that often prevails in the black community: not only does golf have a poor racial history, it often appears to be slow, boring and out of touch to the younger generation.
"It’s going to take a complete transformation in the way we think about sports,” said Pearson-Tucker, who teaches golf in south Florida. "It’s still a wimp sport for a lot of kids. Our kids don’t want to play wimp sports.”
Kendall Murphy runs up against plenty of skeptics, too. He went to UNLV’s PGA Management School and is now a black tournament professional at The Broadmoor in Colorado.
"When I go into the community and I’m working with kids, I say, ’What do you want to do? Have you ever thought about golf?"’ Murphy said. "And they say, ‘Black kids don’t play golf. Only Tiger Woods plays golf. We can’t do that.’ I tell them that I play golf, I’m an expert in the business and game of golf. You can do what you want. But a lot of people think if they don’t see it, then it’s not possible. They’ve seen lawyers, doctors, firefighters and policeman of their race. They don’t see people of their race playing golf.”
Murphy, who grew up in the Bay Area, often struggles to explain just what it is he does.
"If I went back to Oakland and held a town hall meeting and told them I was a PGA Class A professional, I bet 70 percent would not know I’m talking about. They would think I’m in the Plumbing and Gas Association.”
During the trophy presentation following his first Masters victory, Woods paid tribute to black pioneers such as Elder, Sifford and Teddy Rhodes.
"Those guys paved the way for me to be here,” he said. "I thank them. If it wasn’t for them, I might not have had the chance to play here.”
Back in 1975, Elder was a racial pioneer but he was hardly alone. He was joined on the PGA Tour by seven other African-Americans: Rafe Botts, Pete Brown, Jim Dent, George Johnson, Sifford and his nephew Curtis, and Nate Starks.
Bobby Powell, one of the few black PGA professionals, attended a tournament at Westchester during that era.
"I saw Lee Elder, Pete Brown, a lot of names to look for,” Powell said. "Back in the day, we hoped we could see their names above the cut line. Now, we don’t have but one out there.”
Most black pros started out as caddies, which gave them a chance to get in regular playing time at high-quality courses in between stints on the bag. But the invention of the golf cart largely wiped out that entry point.
"When the golf cart came along, it took a lot of us out of the game of golf,” said Lewis, the First Tee instructor in Atlanta and golf coach at historically black Morehouse College. "That was the way I learned. I used to caddie at the local country club because that was the only way to make some money.”
Also gone are the days when a PGA Tour player was self-taught. Charlie Owens, a two-time winner, played his entire career cross-handed. Charlie Sifford and Calvin Peete, among others, didn’t have high-profile coaches or attend high-priced academies. They got better by playing.
"It’s much more than it was when Chi Chi Rodriguez or Lee Trevino caddied,” Finchem said. "It’s getting kids better, quicker with swing coaches and psychologists. The resources are amazing. It’s a daunting challenge … to change the look of the tour. It continues to be tougher.”
Starn wants to see Woods take advantage of his popularity and influence by taking a strong stand on social issues.
But he also puts onus on others to help bring more diversity to the PGA Tour.
"Tiger is hugely important as a role model. He’s spoken of his own pride and affection for black golf pioneers,” Starn said. "What really gets me is why are we talking about the one golfer of color on the PGA Tour? Why is this viewed as his problem? Why doesn’t a Phil Mickelson or a Davis Love or a Fred Couples speak up about these issues?
"It’s a real mistake to say Tiger is somehow responsible for fixing these questions,” he said, "when the problem really belongs to the whole PGA Tour.”
Golf’s governing bodies point with pride to the impact of The First Tee, which has reached 2.9 million youngsters through 206 chapters in 49 states and four other countries. Even so, the most recent figures from 2008 show that the majority of kids were Caucasian (54.2 percent). African-Americans were next at 20 percent.
"I absolutely despise our First Tee program,” said Art Gelow, the golf coach at historically black Savannah State University in Georgia. "You go over there on a Saturday morning and it’s nothing but kids from affluent neighborhoods. It’s a baby-sitting service more than anything else.”