It might be the strangest paradox in all of sports today, and it played out again last weekend at Augusta National, before millions of television viewers. Tiger Woods was the center of attention, the most magnetic presence in golf, drawing the biggest and loudest gallery and generating another massive audience for a nail-biter of a Masters finish.
The crowd following him was a cross-section of the global population, awash in more colors than the crowds at a major had ever been before he burst onto the scene. Undoubtedly there were more viewers of color in the United States and around the world than there ever had been before his arrival. And blended in with the mass of players tangling with Tiger for the Masters title down the stretch were youngsters from all over the planet, from literally every golf-playing continent, who readily admit that he was a major reason they took up the game and who used him as their role model.
Yet, once again, not a single other competitor at this major looked like Tiger.
Fifteen years after Woods knocked down the walls between the historically exclusionary sport and the people it most aggressively excluded, there is precisely one other African-American player on the PGA Tour.
Now, the environment has changed in just about every other aspect of golf. More black people are playing the game; before Woods turned pro, estimates put the number of African-American recreational golfers at around 800,000, and today it is more than 2 million. More are watching it, both on television and in person. A huge segment of the conversation about Tiger’s extra-curricular activities after his 2009 car crash was driven by a demographic that, until his emergence, couldn’t have cared less about any aspect of any golfer’s life.
Yet virtually none of them are joining Tiger in playing golf at its highest level.
The number of black golfers’ organizations, websites and networks grows every year. The same goes for blacks playing in college–including historically black colleges, even in the face of severe financial hardships at those schools. Shasta Averyhardt, who made this year’s LPGA Tour out of Q-school, is a product of Jackson State, coached since 1986 by Eddie Payton, the brother of football Hall of Famer Walter Payton. Yes, she is the only black player on that tour.
All of this proves that black people in this country are engaged in golf like they never have been before. The “Tiger Effect,” a phenomenon even before he gave its generation its Jackie Robinson moment at the ’97 Masters, is still in effect today. It’s the same in tennis, where Serena and Venus Williams have drawn African-Americans into that country-club sport in unprecedented numbers during their decade-long primes.