Welcome to the Weekend POU!
So many legends that I didn’t get a chance to honor this week so this topic will definitely be revisited. Today however, there are some young contemporaries that I’d like to showcase from the sport of golf.
Could we be seeing the second coming of Tiger Woods?
In Ginger Howard‘s young career, she’s won 78 trophies, ranking first in 41 out of 66 events, and the golf world has taken notice. Now, 19-year-old Howard has made history as the youngest member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), according to BlackNews.com.
After enrolling at the IMG Golf Academy in Florida, Howard quickly advanced, petitioning the LPGA to allow her to play in its qualifying tournament last year, even though she wasn’t the mandatory 18 years old then.
What has separated her from other golfers her age? According to her swing coach at IMG, it is her toughness and love for the game.
“She loves and she thrives on the pressure and the tournament golf,” said Nathan Bertsch. “That’s the maturity in the game that is really special to me.”
Watch CBS Correspondent James Brown’s profile of the phenom:
Florida being such a hotbed for golfing talent, this is a local story but given the number of pro golfers that hail from the state, these two young men deserve some national attention.
Two Young Black Athletes Break the Mold as Golfers
T.J. Wright, 16, of George Jenkins High, left, and Ryan Birt, 15, of Lakeland High will compete for the No. 1 positions on their golf teams in the fall. “There’s really no courses in the black neighborhoods,” Wright said. “When they bring out kids to The First Tee from the Housing Authority and different schools, the kids love golf. But they’ve never heard of it.”
LAKELAND | Ryan Birt and T.J. Wright of Lakeland are two of Polk County’s most promising underclassmen in high school golf.
The sophomores will contend for the No. 1 positions on two of the county’s top golf teams at Lakeland High and George Jenkins this fall as juniors.
They are also the only two black golfers on Polk high school boys or girls teams for next season, according to area coaches.
“Even at the regional tournaments where there were Tampa kids, I didn’t see any (black golfers),” said Wright, a 16-year-old at George Jenkins High School.
“I just think they focus more toward football and basketball,” Wright said. “Nobody talks to them about golf and tennis.”
Wright and Birt, 15, are products of The First Tee of Lakeland, which actively promotes diversity in its golf programs for juniors. They said just being exposed to golf is challenge enough.
“Football and basketball you can play in your neighborhood, but in golf you have to go to a course,” Birt said.
“There’s really no courses in the black neighborhoods,” Wright said. “When they bring out kids to The First Tee from the Housing Authority and different schools, the kids love golf. But they’ve never heard of it. When they come out there, they enjoy it. They love it.”
Wright and Birt are among just a handful of minorities represented on high school boys and girls golf teams in Polk. Winter Haven High School freshman Athena Yang is the most notable minority golfer in Polk. Yang, who is from an Asian family, finished third in the state tournament in the fall.
Polk County high schools lag significantly behind the national participation rates for black golfers. In the United States, 7 percent of all golfers are black, compared with 13.7 percent for Asian-Americans, according to the PGA of America. But Birt and Wright are the only two black golfers on 33 boys and girls high school teams in Polk County. Most teams have at least five players.
“I think it just reflects what you see on the tour and in colleges,” Ridge boys golf coach Bob McKnight said.
But across all chapters of The First Tee network, 17 percent of participants are black and 14 percent are Hispanic, while 49 percent are non-Caucasian, according to Mike Cooper, The First Tee director of regional affairs for the Southeast.
pictured, T.J. as a player of the year recipient 2011.
Paul Roberts, the boys golf coach at Lakeland High, agrees that other sports are far more popular than golf.
Football is certainly the drawing card at Lakeland High, where the Dreadnaughts have won six state championships. Jenkins is a perennial playoff contender in soccer.
But the desire to play mainstream sports is just one reason for the lack of black golfers in Polk high schools.
Transportation, the expense involved, opportunity and interest level are also factors.
Paul Weaver, the George Jenkins boys golf coach, said transportation is sometimes an issue because sports like golf, tennis and swimming require going away from campus to compete and practice.
“Playing high school golf or golf in general is not quite as easy as playing basketball, baseball or football,” Weaver said.
THE FIRST TEE
Birt and Wright were able to develop their skills and learn about the game of golf at The First Tee, which opened in 2005 at the YMCA Par 3.
Gerald Richardson, director of golf at The First Tee of Lakeland, said Tiger Woods helped change golf’s perception as a “rich Caucasian sport.” It is expensive no matter the demographic.
“That’s a big part of The First Tee being an affordable option for youth golf. That’s what we’re here for,” Richardson said. “We’re not here just for the individual who cannot afford golf. We’re here for all golfers — rich, poor, all minorities, male, female, adult, youth. We serve any and all.”
Wright said he wouldn’t have known about golf if it hadn’t been for The First Tee. Now, he and Birt get the opportunity to play with role models like Charles Barkley, Derrick Brooks and Jim Thorpe in the annual Barkley, Bean, Bryant and Friends Celebrity Skins Game at the YMCA Par 3.
Birt has been a member since it opened in 2005, while Wright has been a member since 2006.
“They’ve both come a long way,” Richardson said. “Seven or eight years later, both of them are on a high school team, playing as one of the top golfers for Lakeland’s and George Jenkins’ programs. Both can shoot around even par on any given day.”
Read more here.
And finally….I’d be remiss if I didn’t show the most ridiculous shot EVER by Tiger: