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Good Start
SAM PURYEAR JR.
May 12, 2008
I may be the first, but won't be the last black coach at a top program
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May 12, 2008

Good Start

I may be the first, but won't be the last black coach at a top program

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WHEN I was a kid, the black tobacco-factory workers who filled the fairways of the Winston Lake Golf Course in Winston-Salem, N.C., dressed like Calvin Peete and wore Kangol caps. One of the former pros at Winston Lake, the late Harold Dunovant, was among the first African-American Class A PGA professionals and the founder of the National Black Golf Hall of Fame. Over the years all the great black golfers came through: Peete, Althea Gibson, Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder and Jim Thorpe. My own personal golf idol was my dad, Sam Puryear Sr., a scratch golfer who played on the Winston-Salem State team in the 1960s.

I had all of this history on my shoulders when I was hired last summer as the men's coach at Michigan State, becoming the first African-American to lead a golf program at a school in one of the six BCS conferences. For two years I had been an assistant at Stanford, where we won the 2007 NCAA Championship. A player from an opposing team once asked my guys if I had received the job because of affirmative action. That speaks to how few black coaches there are at this level, although I don't know why there haven't been more. It simply may be that there aren't a lot of young black kids around the country dreaming about being a golf coach. I think millions of them fantasize about being Tiger Woods—they would rather have the glitz and glamour and the fame and fortune.

I know because I was the captain at Tennessee State in the early '90s, but I've come to like the other side just as much. I enjoy working with young people, helping to foster their dreams. Before Stanford, I was in Atlanta, where for eight years I ran the East Lake Junior Golf Academy, serving more than 1,000 underprivileged kids.

I think that as more people like me come through the system, there will be more black golf coaches at top programs. More than anything, I'm a prime example of the strides that golf has made with minorities. Although there are only 39 blacks among the 27,000 Class A PGA members, more blacks are enrolled in professional golf management programs than ever before. When I participated in the inaugural PGA Tour Minority Internship program in 1992, there were hardly any blacks working in the industry. Today if you take a quick canvass of the business, you will find a number of blacks in visible positions across the spectrum. We'll see more black players emerge as greater numbers get superior equipment, instruction and access.

The best way I know to better the lot of blacks in golf is by being the best coach that I can be to the 12 young men who depend on me for guidance during their college careers. In 10 tournaments this season we had a win and five second-place finishes, and last week we won our second straight Big Ten championship. Next week we'll tee off in the NCAA regionals as the 19th-ranked team in the country.

My squad is stocked with players from a variety of backgrounds, but I use the same coaching philosophy that I learned as a kid from the elders at Winston Lake: "Be prepared, be willing to do what others are not, and be willing to go the extra mile. And don't leave any stone unturned."

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