PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship Set to Kick Off in Philadelphia
By George Willis
Howard University's Gregory Odom Jr. hits out of a bunker during the second round of the 2021 PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship PGA of America
The Howard University men's golf team is riding a wave of unprecedented momentum heading into the PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship, May 2-4 in Philadelphia. The Bison, in only the program’s second year, captured their first-ever MEAC Championship last week with Gregory Odom Jr. winning top individual honors.
Yet, momentum means little to Howard golf coach Sam Puryear, who is taking nothing for granted heading into what is considered the most culturally significant championship in collegiate golf.
“Momentum? I don’t think like that,” Puryear said. “My attitude is I want us to be prepared. I want to go out there and play our best game and let everything else take care of itself. At the end of the day, you’re only as good as your last shot.”
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The PWCC, formerly the PGA Minority Golf Championship, is in its 35th year and features more than 30 teams representing Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and other minority-serving institutions from across the nation. Sponsored by PGA WORKS, Comcast, CastleOak Securities, Bank of America and the Union League of Philadelphia, the 54-hole stroke-play event will be played on two courses – Union League Liberty Hill and the Union League Golf Club at Torresdale.
A field of 202 participants will be divided into five divisions – Division I Men, Division II Men, Women's Team, Individual Men and Individual Women. Prairie View A&M is the defending Men’s Division I champion, while Miles College captured the Men’s Division II crown. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi won the Women’s Division last year when the Championship was played at TPC Sawgrass after the previous 20 were at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida. All three teams are returning to defend their championships.
A triumph in the Men’s Division would continue Howard’s rapid rise after being subsidized by NBA superstar Stephen Curry, who has agreed in 2019 to donate $6 million over six years to restore a program that had been dormant for nearly 50 years. Howard’s women’s team is competing in the PWCC for the first time.
Howard’s success on the links is a testament to the influx of golf talent at HBCUs, including Odom. He comes to the 2022 PWCC as the defending individual medalist, having won his championship on the storied Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. He also enters the PWCC after capturing the 2022 MEAC Individual Championship last week. The senior from Memphis, Tennessee, has accepted a sponsor’s exemption to play at the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship next month.
“I push him pretty hard,” Puryear said. “He’s getting better even from a golf IQ perspective and thinking through shots and thinking his way around the course.”
Howard enters as the top-ranked team among HBCU schools, followed closely by Alabama State, Florida A&M, Chicago State and North Carolina A&T. Last year’s Division II winner, Miles College, will be challenged by Virginia Union, Bluefield State and Kentucky State.
Gonzalo Moreno of Alabama State was second at the 2022 Southwestern Athletic Conference men’s golf championship and figures to be a factor in Philadelphia. Patrick Jean-Pierre leads Florida A&M after the junior from Augusta, Georgia, finished fourth at the SWAC.
Don’t sleep on Texas Southern, which is looking to duplicate what it did at the SWAC Championships winning both men’s and women’s championships. Texas Southern freshman Dili Sitanonth won the women’s individual honors. Kathryn Richardson leads the Alabama State women’s team, while Lucie Charbonnier is the top player at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
There is more on the line than just the five divisions. Korn Ferry extended its sponsor exemption applications to the top three finishers in the Men’s Division I, Men’s Division II and Men’s Individual Divisions. Those individuals can apply for the exemption into the 2022 Price Cutter Charity Championship, July 21-24, at Highland Springs Country Club in Springfield, Missouri.
The top three finishers and ties in the Women’s Team or Individual Divisions will be eligible to apply for an “MVP Invite” exemption into the Epson Tour’s Guardian Championship, Sept. 16-18, in Prattville, Alabama.
The Championship will present a physical test for the competitors. Practice rounds are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday and are important given the differences between the two golf courses donated by the Union League. Liberty Hill is a massive layout over 310 acres with big fairways and bunkers, while Torresdale is a tight tree-lined course with tricky Donald Ross greens.
Scooter Clark played in the inaugural Minority Collegiate Golf Championship, created to elevate the game for minority colleges and universities. He later coached Bethune-Cookman’s men’s and women’s teams to a record 10 titles in the event. He has been the Championship Director since 2018 and is excited about its growth. The weekend begins with a gala reception at the Union League of Philadelphia.
The partnership with the Union League has been instrumental in making the tournament more than a golf competition. The Union League not only donated its courses and waived its food and beverage fees, the club was helpful in putting together the one-day Beyond the Green career workshop that exposes the 202 competitors and 150 other high school and college-age students to leaders in the golf industry. The event is May 1 at the Comcast Technology Center.
In addition, a number of the African American Members of the PGA of America will serve as ambassadors during the championship with at least one member assigned to shadow and mentor a team.
"This a very, very unique championship," Clark said. "This championship produces the largest pool of minority golfers at one time. There are 202 student-athletes and 80 percent of them are black and all of them play at a high enough standard to play as a PGA Member someday."
The action begins on May 2 with Division I men's teams and individuals competing at Liberty Hill and the Division II men’s and women’s divisions starting at Torresdale. They swap courses on May 3 before switching back to their original course for the final day.
Clark promises a stern but fair test once the competition begins.
"The courses will play at an NCAA championship level,” he said. "It will be competitive and it will be fair. We want to make sure our student-athletes have a good time. But it will be set up as a championship.The best teams and individuals will be showcased."