Sunday, February 15, 2009

Uneven Lies with Pete McDaniel

This past Monday I had the opportunity to hear Pete McDaniel, Golf Digest Senior Writer and author of Uneven Lies, The Heroic Story of African Americans in Golf, speak at Temple University. McDaniel talk was part of the University's observance of Black History Month and sponsored by Temple's Office of Community Relations. McDaniel's book has also been produced into a documentary, "Uneven Fairways," which is currently airing on The Golf Channel.

In his talk, McDaniel took us on a bus ride through time, back to 1896, when the first U.S. Open was being held at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island. Many of the top players of the day, who hailed mosted from Great Britain and Europe, threatened to withdraw because John Shippen, a black caddie had qualified to play in the Open. The USGA held firm that Shippen and another minority--a Native American--would be allowed to compete. Shippen led the tournament after the first round, and later finished fifth, before becoming this country's first golf professional.

Our journey, via McDaniel, took us to Boston in 1899 where dentist George F. Grant, an African-American, avid golfer and Harvard graduate, developed and patented the first wooden golf tee. We stopped in Harlem, N.Y., to learn about Althea Gibson, a celebrated tennis champion, winning the 1957 U.S. Open and 1958 Wimbledon Championship, before later becoming the first black female pro golfer, competing for more than a dozen years on the ladies pro golf tour.

We met such notable black golfers as John Brooks Dendy, who once opened a round with a 1, 2, 3 and 4 on his first four holes en route to shooting a 59. Ted Rhodes, who was nicknamed "Rags" because of his always stylish attire, while winning 150 tournaments, but never was allowed to compete on the PGA Tour.

McDaniel enlightened us about Dewey Brown, a light-skinned African American who earned membership in the Professional Golfers Association of America and worked in the Poconos as a club professional at Shawnee-on-the Delaware in the 1920s and 30s. In 1934, his membership in the PGA was revoked and the "Caucasian only" rule was added into the PGA's by-laws. This rule wasn't rescinded until 1962.

We also ventured to nearby Cobbs Creek Golf Course, which was the home course for awhile to Charlie Sifford, who at age 39 finally made it to the PGA Tour when the "Caucasian only" rule was abolished. Sifford received death threats at tournaments and once had someone defecate into the cup on the first hole while attempting to qualify for a PGA event in Phoenix. But Sifford persevered thanks to advice from Jackie Robinson, who had broken the color barrier in baseball about 15 years before.

We learned about Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, who is probably better known for his exploits in the boxing ring, but was a very good golfer and became the first African American to compete in a PGA event when he was allowed to enter the 1952 San Diego Open as an amateur on a sponsor's exemption. McDaniel said that Louis was "civil right leader without ever knowing it."

McDaniel's talk was educational, entertaining, but more importantly, enlightening. We learned about the many talented golfers who were denied the opportunity to compete on the professional tours, simply because of their skin color. We heard about the UGA, or "Chitlin Circuit," where these golfers who ply their trade, hone their game and compete against each other less-than-pristine courses for meager purses in pursuit of a dream.

I also had the opportunity to have lunch with McDaniel on Monday, where he updated on the current status on Tiger Woods. McDaniel has co-authored co-two books: "Training a Tiger--The Official Book on How to Be the Best" with Tiger Woods, and "Training a Tiger--A Father's Guide to Raising a Winner in Both Golf and Life" with Earl Woods, Tiger's late father. McDaniel says that Tiger's game is in very good shape and he has spoken with Tiger's swing coach, Hank Haney. McDaniel predicts that Tiger will return to the PGA Tour at Doral, instead of the World Match Play, as many are predicting. He believes that Tiger will then play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational tow weeks later, before taking a week off before The Masters.