Ten years ago, Will Lowery didn’t fully understand what it meant to be a Black golfer with some notoriety.
He had appeared on the Golf Channel competition show “Big Break” in 2011, which led to speaking opportunities. During an appearance for the First Tee that year, Lowery asked the kids who their favorite players were. One kid – an African American – spoke up from the back row.
“It’s you!” he told Lowery, who chuckled and responded that Rory McIlroy had just won the U.S. Open, so maybe it should be him. The kid shot back with a comment that Lowery said he’ll never forget: “Well, Rory ain’t never coming around this neighborhood.”
A decade later, the comment still sticks with Lowery, who now understands the impact he – and other minorities – can have on young golfers.
“When he said that, I never realized the impact of being an African American on television and swinging a golf club,” Lowery said Wednesday at the 2021 PGA Championship’s PGA WORKS Beyond the Green Virtual Event, where he was a panelist. “When that happened, I realized we have something here.”
That is why every guest on this year’s virtual event focused on encouraging the more than 250 registered college students and young professionals from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds to pursue careers in golf’s $84 billion industry, which drives 2 million jobs. The annual event also gave them a behind-the-scenes peek at how the 2021 PGA Championship and KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship are put on.
All with the end goal of creating a golf workforce that better mirrors America’s cultural landscape.
“It is inspiring when we see people from all backgrounds successfully pursuing a career in the golf industry and in playing the game,” PGA President Jim Richerson, the Senior Vice President of Operations for Troon in Scottsdale, Arizona, said to the students. “We’d love to see you working in the sport, playing the game, or better yet, both. We hope today leaves you inspired to possibly pursue PGA of America membership or work with a PGA Coach to get into the game. Plus, there’s tremendous career opportunities available throughout the golf industry.”
Freelance reporter and analyst for ESPN and the ACC Network Monica McNutt, who has also appeared on Fox Sports, CBS Sports Network and Turner/NBA TV, was this year’s keynote speaker. Her passionate message to students was based on her own experiences as a Black woman trying to break into sports media: Push, pivot and play.
“Push, and push relentlessly,” McNutt said. “Sometimes when we think about chasing our dreams or pursuing our goals, it’s rosy in our mind, and we overlook just how much is required to push. … So, push with all of your being. Give it everything, because if we don’t push as the next generation, things don’t change.”
Her “pivot” message was about being nimble and adaptable when career or life plans might change, and “play” was about the students fully immersing themselves in whatever it is they are trying to accomplish, like a career in golf.
The event also included an energetic interview with James Brown, one of the most recognizable faces and voices in sports broadcasting through his work on NFL Today on CBS. Brown, who was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2020, talked about an array of topics, including how he found his work ethic, breaking into sports journalism and broadcasting, and the importance of diversity in corporate America.
Guests throughout the day’s two panel sessions discussed the importance of squashing negative stereotypes in golf, making more kinds of people feel welcomed by the sport and turning their passion for it – or even their passion for another business aspect – into a career in the golf industry.
“In being different and unique in this space, we understood there was leverage to celebrate diversity in the game of golf,” said Seema Sedekar, who along with her sister Nisha (also a panelist) runs PDG Global, a golf event and entertainment business. “Through that, we’ve really celebrated the lifestyle components that come with the game. … from fashion to travel to wine to the 19th hole.”
Demarkis Cooper, a PGA Professional in Washington, D.C., wasn’t initially sure what a golf career looked like for him. He just knew he wanted to be involved.
He eventually locked in on being someone who can welcome others into the sport. He figured the best way to do that was to become a PGA Member, and he continues doing that in a managerial role at CitySwing, an indoor golf facility that caters to avid players and first timers alike, with a focus on creating an inclusive culture.
“As time went on, my focus became welcoming others into the game,” Cooper said. “In order for the game to keep growing, more people have to start playing it. It can’t just be the same people that are in it, because that’s only going to take us so far.
“I realized getting my generation, people younger than me, people who look like me into the game is what was needed. And I figured it was going to be hard to do if there weren’t many people like me to welcome them in.”
With the help of PGA WORKS, Beyond the Green and all of its participants, more are on the way.