To whom will Tiger pass the torch?

TIM McKAY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:02 AM ET

Tiger Woods is a shining example of what can be accomplished by a minority golfer.

So, having a player of African-American descent dominate for most of the past 15 years on the PGA Tour must have opened doors for black golfers, right?

No.

It’s almost exactly the opposite, some prominent players in the black golf community say.

“Unfortunately, he hasn’t had an effect,” 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.

“Everybody thinks that black people started playing in 1997 when Tiger won the Masters ... I think they think if Tiger can make it, anyone can make it and I think that’s sort of a false visual of it.”

Dunovant’s frustration stems from their perception that Woods isn’t using his stature, both his notoriety and his wealth, to give back to black golf, at least at the elite level.

While Woods does have his own foundation which donates to, among other things, the Bill Dickey Scholarship Association for black golfers, Dunovant says he should be helping out with elite players.

“I wish he would have said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna take five guys and I’m gonna give them a shot.’ And whatever it takes for those, however many years he decides, even if it’s three years, I’m gonna cover all their expenses for three years, and give them a shot,” Dunovant said.

But it’s more than that. Tiger, in a way, is the token black player, his peers say.

“It’s kind of weird, but I think since Tiger has gone out (on the PGA Tour) the door has really been closed, and it has been locked,” said Andy Walker, who played collegiate golf with Woods and was on the current season of the Golf Channel’s Big Break Ireland. “When Tiger came out they said, well, you know, we kind of already have our One. We’ve got our guy out here.”

And it hasn’t helped that he has been so good.

“It has gotten to a point where I think we get judged a bit unfairly because of Tiger,” Walker said. “I don’t think when a white player comes out of college he is asked if he is better than Phil Mickelson.

“I get that all the time: ‘Can you beat Tiger?’ And I tell them, I’ll whoop Tiger’s ass. Yeah, of course I can beat him any given day. Am I saying I’m a better player than Tiger? That’s pretty ridiculous to say. He’s the greatest player ever. But, if you ask me if I can beat him and I say yeah, you’re gonna go, ‘Come on.’ ”

TOUGH QUESTIONS, NO EASY ANSWERS

Integration may be a major factor in the decline of the black professional golfer.

Segregation, argues Dr. Jeffrey Sammons, a professor of history at New York University, actually fostered the development of African-American players. When the golf world, and society in general, opened up, much of the support system in the black community went to tatters, according to Sammons.

When blacks weren’t allowed to play on white courses or white tours, the community banded together, forming their own tours and associations. The players — standouts such as Charlie Sifford and Jim Thorpe among others — were some of the last who had come out of the black-only United Golf Association formed in 1925. And when they finally got their shot on the PGA Tour, they were ready.

Sammons said it’s a complex matter, intertwining of class and race. He is not arguing a return to segregation, but points to the absence of any adequate replacements for black institutions to fill the void.

George Bradford, the lone African-American player on the Canadian Tour this season, feels the renaissance of a black-only tour is warranted.

“We used to have our own tour ... love it or hate it, it was a tour where guys travelled around the country, they played, they competed, they gambled, they lived hard, they did what they had to do, but they were playing full time. There was an investment there,” Bradford said.

An uncomfortable solution for some, though, because it would once again mean segregation.

“Nowadays, I don’t think you’d be able to do that,” said former Nationwide Tour player Tim O’Neal, who is still playing well yet contemplating quitting professional golf because it’s such a financial struggle. “Not only that, I don’t think it would be right to do that.”


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