How two trailblazing PGA Professionals created a special bond at 2016 PGA Championship

By Bob Denney
Published on
How two trailblazing PGA Professionals created a special bond at 2016 PGA Championship

When Tom Woodard and Wyatt Worthington II met at the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club, it was more than a ceremonial “passing of the torch” between two groundbreaking golfers. It was like a younger brother connecting with his mentor.

Woodard, now 62 and in his 11th season as PGA Director of Golf for the Foothills Park and Recreation District in Littleton, Colorado, was the first African American PGA Club Professional to earn a berth in the PGA Championship when he teed it up in 1991 at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana.

Worthington, a 30-year-old PGA Teaching Professional in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, broke a 25-year drought in 2016 along with becoming the first African American graduate of the PGA Golf Management University Program (Methodist University) to compete in the PGA Championship.

For Woodard, his 1991 major experience came three years after he had left the Tour. It happened at the same Championship where John Daly wrote an improbable chapter as the No. 9 alternate marching to the Rodman Wanamaker Trophy.

That season also was a year removed after a landmark pivot in racial divide came at Shoal Creek,  a turning point for diverse membership policies to set a standard for major Championship golf and, ultimately, throughout the sport.

“I was coming into that PGA Championship not feeling overwhelmed,” recalls Woodard. “I had played a few years on the PGA Tour, then the Asian Tour and I played in the 1993 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, shooting a 72 in the first round. It was a bit different for Wyatt, and I was so pleased to be there to see him compete.

“When I met him, one of the things that stood out was he was an outstanding young man. He was polite, courteous and understood his road to achieve the next level in golf would not come without hard work.”

Trailblazing has been part of Woodard’s life in golf. Born in Midland, Texas, he and his family moved to Denver when he was 10 years old. He joined the city’s junior golf program and also caddied.

As a member of the University of Colorado at Boulder golf team, Woodard became the first African American to gain NCAA All-America honors (honorable mention). One of the first African American Evans Scholars, Woodard graduated in 1977.

Soon after Worthington met Woodard, other conversations and interviews took over. But Worthington repeatedly said, “Pioneer! Pioneer!” loud enough for Woodard to hear. “It was a great experience for me to make the PGA Championship and to meet Tom,” says Worthington, who splits his year teaching at The Golf Depot at Central Park in Gahanna, Ohio and caddying in the winter at Seminole Golf Club of Juno Beach, Florida.

“Tom was someone I could pick his brain a bit and I consider him now a friend. I will not forget the week I had and having the chance to meet him.” History and special moments followed Worthington as much as they did Woodard. At age 14, Worthington received a lesson from Tiger Woods at a golf clinic in Columbus, Ohio.

“That clinic changed my life for the better,” says Worthington. “Here I am, now. The proof is in the pudding. Meeting Tiger was such a positive experience. He has such an influence on people.”

Woodard was elected to PGA Membership in 1989, and made his niche through what he called “a slow process.”

“I had the advantage of being a good player before I applied for the job that I have today,” says Woodard. “Everything is required to get to the next level, and nothing is given. I’m very happy with where I am and those I work with. It’s been a fantastic ride.”