At the turn of the 21st Century, Tiger Woods dominated the game of golf.
Over a near-unprecedented five-year period, Woods staked a claim as the top-ranked golfer globally, eventually capturing 15 major championships (just three shy of Jack Nicklaus’s record).
But even as Woods, an individual of color, took the game by storm, many believed golf missed a golden opportunity to capitalize on his appeal to African Americans and other minorities.
“Yes, without question,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said during an exclusive and historic interview with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) at the BMW Championships in Owings Mills, Maryland. “Tiger became must-see TV whenever he was playing—the PGA Tour’s version of Michael Jordan with a record-tying 82 PGA Tour wins. It’s important to have people from all fields that you can identify with and aspire to in sports or otherwise. Tiger was that for the game of golf.”
Monahan became the first commissioner of a major league sport to grant the NNPA an exclusive interview. The 81-year-old NNPA is the trade association representing the hundreds of Black-owned newspapers and media companies that comprise the 194-year-old Black Press of America.
“Tiger has had an impact on everyone,” said Monahan. “He made golf cool and helped show that golf is played by true athletes. So many of our young stars picked up a golf club or decided to focus on golf because of Tiger Woods. In the last several years, they were competing against a player who literally inspired them to play the game. No other sport can offer that. Tiger’s impact has extended off the course as well. His TGR Foundation (now in its 25th year) has had such a positive influence on kids, with more than two million benefiting and hundreds receiving direct financial support for higher education in the form of scholarships and other aid.”
Determined not to miss any further opportunities to connect with the African American community, The PGA Tour has, among many other commitments, entered a memorandum of understanding with the Black Press of America.
The agreement promises to raise awareness and keep African Americans and other communities of color informed about all the game has to offer.
“One aspect of our focus is helping to grow diversity inside the ropes through our expanded relationship with the APGA Tour,” Monahan said.
“Working closely with APGA President/Executive Director Ken Bentley, we’ve already seen progress with players like Willie Mack III competing (successfully I might add) on the PGA Tour.
illie won the inaugural Billy Horschel APGA Tour Invitational presented by Cisco [hosted by our 2014 FedExCup Champion at TPC Sawgrass] and with his victory at the Mastercard APGA Tour Championship, Willie receives a full scholarship into Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying School.
“But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What we’re doing today is identifying, preparing, and transitioning top African American collegiate golfers into professional golf. The efforts of Kenyatta Ramsey, a PGA Tour employee since 2008, have been instrumental in our progress in the player diversity space. Kenyatta now oversees this relationship in an official capacity as Senior Director, Player Development.”
Monahan said he understands and accepts the criticism golf has received for its past sins of excluding people of color.
He has pledged that the PGA Tour would become part of the conversation and the solution surrounding racial and social injustices.
“I also said then that, candidly, we didn’t know exactly what to do right away, but that we wouldn’t be deterred,” Monahan said.
“Does it feel like it was in the distant past? Absolutely not. What we’ve done since is make a commitment to communicate, learn, show compassion, and ultimately demand better. That started with and, frankly, continues with doing a lot more listening than talking.”
The PGA Tour committed a $100-million pledge over 10 years to support racial equity and inclusion efforts and has thriving HBCU and APGA Tour initiatives.
“We hope that, as the careers of these talented, young HBCU players progress, they’ll then be able to play their way into additional opportunities like two others we’re excited to share,” Monahan said.
He added that expanded collaboration with HBCUs is a crucial point of emphasis moving forward.
Thanks to PGA Tour partners at United Airlines, Monahan noted that he’s pleased to announce that every one of the 51 current men’s and women’s HBCU golf programs across the country will receive a $10,000 grant.
“To take a step back regarding the PGA Tour’s history as well, we have been giving back to the communities where we play for more than 80 years,” Monahan said. “It was former PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman, who said it beautifully: ‘I consider us to be more than a sports league. We’re a public trust, and it’s our job to balance the interest of players, community tournaments, and the game of golf.’”
“It’s why we’ve surpassed $3.2 billion in charitable giving in our history. It’s also why the Tour began its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in earnest back in 2014, why we launched our employee resources groups in 2016 and established the Inclusion Leadership Council in 2019.”
Did it take too long for the Black Press of America and the PGA Tour to begin working together?
“Yes,” Monahan said. “Can we work together now (listen to and learn from each other now) as part of a shared commitment to ensuring golf stands as a game for all? Yes, I firmly feel and believe that, too.”
Monahan added that the Black Press could help further golf’s message of diversity, equity, and inclusion by sharing “these impactful HBCU and APGA Tour stories and more with your audience as part of a regular cadence. Together, we can be part of the solution in inspiring the next generation to know, and feel, that our great game is for everyone,” he said. “Our goal is to weave diversity and inclusion into all fabrics of the PGA Tour, and that’s what we’ve been working diligently to do.”