All the talk about more African-Americans coming into golf on
the heels of Tiger Woods is more fiction than fact. There are
only a couple of African-Americans at the top of the amateur
ranks, and the junior pipeline is dry. Why? Not because there's
a lack of opportunities. African-Americans simply aren't taking
advantage of what's available.
There are plenty of great programs, all over the country, for
young African-American golfers: Clubs for Kids, the many
established junior organizations--which are open to children of
any color--and numerous lesser-known local groups run by
African-Americans at public courses. I've been involved with
fantastic inner-city golf programs in Atlanta, Detroit and Los
Angeles. Too often, though, they are underused.
Frequently we hear African-American kids and their parents say
that one has to be a millionaire to play golf. That's a cop-out.
If some kids took the gold off their ears and necks and stopped
forking over $140 for a pair of Air Jordans every six months,
they would have more than enough money to buy a good set of
clubs, a bag, shoes and balls. What's more, that equipment lasts
a whole lot longer than any pair of sneakers.
Golf has some distinct advantages over other games that are
popular with kids, including basketball, football and soccer.
For example, I'm 42 and still have 50 years, I hope, of golf
ahead of me. The games I loved as a kid growing up in
Mississippi--including football, which I played for 12 years in
the NFL--are long gone from my life, except for the recurring
aches and pains.
African-American kids are also missing out on some wonderful
educational opportunities by not getting into golf. Jackson
State, where I coach the men's and women's teams, is one of 18
historically black colleges that offer golf scholarships. And
there are several organizations, including the National Minority
Golf Foundation, with scholarships for good students who can
play golf too. But right now there are more scholarships
available than there are qualified kids to fill them.
For all the missed opportunities, though, there are some success
stories. Take Sam Norwood, who twice won the National Minority
Golf Championship and played for me from 1990 to '94. Sam, who
grew up in Oakland, went through the Western States Golf
Association's minority golf program and came to Jackson State on
a full scholarship. He graduated No. 1 among the premed students
in his class and now, I am proud to say, is starting his fourth
year of medical school at the University of Mississippi.
There is hope. But people have to quit talking about what they
don't have and start reaching out for what they do have.
Under Payton, Jackson State has won six National Minority titles.