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.