Why so few black golfers on PGA Tour?

Tiger Woods hits his tee shot in San Martin, Calif., Oct. 9, 2011. (ROBERT GALBRAITH/Reuters)

Tiger Woods hits his tee shot in San Martin, Calif., Oct. 9, 2011. (ROBERT GALBRAITH/Reuters)

TIM McKAY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:59 PM ET

Andy Walker stood in the 18th fairway knowing he had a decision to make.

Hit the shot he knew he could hit, or play it safe so his lights wouldn’t be shut off.

Go for the green, or go for the guaranteed green. Hit driver off the deck to get there in two on a par-five to give yourself a shot at moving up a few spots to near the top of the leaderboard, or lay up so you know you would be a lock for a cheque to pay the bill collector nipping at your heels.

It’s a reality for all golfers trying to make it to the PGA Tour, but it’s a refrain all too familiar to black golfers, in particular.

• • •

Mostly gone are the black-and-white days of racism, gone is the PGA Tour’s “Caucasian Clause” — the rule that barred black players from the PGA Tour was struck from its constitution in 1961. But what remains is the glaring absence of black players in professional golf.

The fact that Tiger Woods might be the lone player of African-American descent to tee it up on the PGA Tour in 2012 is startling.

The fact that Joseph Bramlett, who played on the PGA Tour in 2011 but failed to retain playing privileges, had been the first African American player to make it via PGA Tour qualifying school since Adrian Stills in 1985, is equally shocking.

Six black players went to Q-school this year — out of around 1,000 — with just one, Brian Cooper, making it through to the second stage, where he will join Bramlett.

With the colour barrier fading, why are black players so under-represented in professional golf?

Financial wherewithal is part of it.

“I think social-economic (factors) and racism are pretty close because if you’re not able to have money, social class, that’s also a way to hold you back,” said Jeff Dunovant, PGA director of instruction at The First Tee at East Lake, president of the National Black Golf Hall of Fame and son of the first African American man to complete the PGA Business School, Harold Dunovant.

• • •

George Bradford, who was the lone black player on the Canadian Tour this season, had a good run going.

In 2008 and ’09, he was the second-ranked African-American player in the world, behind Tiger Woods, of course, but even then, at the top of his game, he couldn’t find financial backing.

“In 2009, I ran out of money, I didn’t have any money to compete,” he said, saying his status as No. 2-ranked black player didn’t matter.

“I wasn’t able to go to PGA Tour school.” he said, exasperated. “The second-highest ranked African-American player in the world couldn’t afford to go to PGA Tour school.

“There seems to be another level for African Americans to get money in the game of golf.

“If you look at the industry across the board, we’re under-represented at every single level.”

****

Dunovant says part of the problem is that the black community doesn’t help its golfers.

“Our own race isn’t willing to help each other out. When you’re looking at other races, you see the Asian people help each other. Unfortunately, black people, our mindset is different for whatever reason, and we’re not willing to help each other.”

Dunovant knows the stories of players such as Walker and Bradford and he sees them ready to start all over again.

“I’ve got some in my First Tee program who are youngsters now and who are good players and obviously going to play college golf, but I’m concerned because they have the goal to play on the PGA Tour but I know their financial background. I know their mother’s a single mother and can hardly pay the light bill. So I know, once they finish college and are trying to get that goal, there’s gonna be no one there to help them.”

• • •

Tim O’Neal’s promising career started to take off in the early 2000s after getting a full-ride deal with movie star Will Smith.

During that time, O’Neal played on the Nationwide Tour (then Buy.com Tour) and came within one agonizing shot — a birdie putt that just missed — of earning his PGA Tour card.

“When Will started sponsoring me, that’s when I made it to the final stage (of Q-school) and I didn’t have to worry about anything,” he said. “I worked with Butch Harmon for a year, and that’s when — when I had the backing behind me — I made the Buy.com Tour.”

It’s no coincidence, either, O’Neal said.

“It’s huge, it changed everything when you can go out there and not have to worry about making a bad swing. It’s different when you’re out there and every shot means so much versus when you know you’re going to play next week and if you make a mistake it’s not that big of a deal.”

• • •

Walker didn’t bother playing on the Canadian Tour this season. He has a son and couldn’t justify playing to pretty much break even.

Instead, he has been working as a teacher and finding other ways to pay his bills. He hasn’t given up and is still hoping for his big break, which ironically could have come from the Golf Channel show of the same name. Walker was featured on this season’s Big Break Ireland and was eliminated on Tuesday.

Walker, 36, is trying to decide whether to keep his dream of making the PGA Tour alive.

“I’ve always said that when I feel like the day that I can’t win on the PGA Tour is the day I can walk away and say: ‘Okay, I gave it my run.’ I damn sure don’t feel like I’ve hit that spot yet.

“And I feel like I’m a pretty realistic guy.”


Videos

Photos