Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Changing the Complexion of Collegiate Golf; Andy Walker Helps Pave the Way by Helping Pepperdine to NCAA Championship

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Changing the Complexion of Collegiate Golf; Andy Walker Helps Pave the Way by Helping Pepperdine to NCAA Championship

Article excerpt

Please don't call Andy Walker the next Tiger Woods. He's too busy being the first Andy Walker.

One of the few African Americans playing National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I-A golf, Walker is believed to be the first Black to play on a NCAA Division I men's golf championship team after Pepperdine University clinched that title in Chicago in May. A few years ago, LaRee Suggs was a part of the UCLA women's national championship team. Walker, a rising senior, says he is used to "being the only Black kid out there playing."

No one apparently is keeping score of the number of African Americans playing college golf, but all say it is a very small percentage of the total. John David, executive director of the Minority Golf Association of America (MGAA), estimated it at one-tenth of one percent.

But that is about to change, many people think, due largely to the stunning impact that Tiger Woods - whose father is Black and mother is Asian - made on the world of golf. Woods, whose record-breaking performance at The Masters in April electrified the nation, was not only the first person of color to win the Grand Slam event, he was also the youngest. As such, he has become a lightning rod attracting young people particularly African Americans - to the game.

"We've been punching holes in the wall for the last few years," David said. "Tiger knocked the wall down in one afternoon."

While he avoids comparison, Walker, one of two Blacks to play in the Division I championship, acknowledges the superstar's contribution.

"He's the best player in the world," he said. "I know he opened up doors for me. People go out and expect to see me on a golf course. They see me hit the ball and know it is not a fluke. When I turn pro, he will have opened up doors for me in other ways. He handles himself so well. He's an educated man who is not going to go out and say, 'Whuz up?' or anything like that. That's important."

Sources of Inspiration

Walker, like Woods, took up golf at an early age. His father introduced him to the game because his father felt that golf, which takes hours to play, would keep his son away from trouble. At the age of six or seven, the Phoenix native didn't really think about being the only Black kid on the course. But as time went on, he says, "I knew it. I always tried to use it as an inspiration because I knew that someday other kids would be looking at me."

Neither of his parents attended a four-year college. His father, now a retired state government employee, graduated from a two-year business college. His mother supervises the laundry at a county hospital.

Walker, who will enter his senior year at Pepperdine in the fall, plans to graduate before he turns professional. He is majoring in business administration and maintains about a 2.7 grade-point average.

"I was the first Black on my high school team," says Walker. "I was the only Black in most of the major junior tournaments I played. I was the first Black on the team at Pepperdine, so I'm sort of used to it. Golf is still not totally integrated, but it's made huge strides in the past couple of years."

But those strides often got shortened by the ignorant. Walker recalls that just a couple of months ago, when he played in a tournament in Texas, he got the kind of reality check that has happened before. After a round of 70 - a good day in any golfer's book - he returned to the club house and, despite being dressed in golf clothes, was approached by a white golfer who said, "Hey, go grab my clubs." He had been mistaken for a caddie.

Walker's reply? "I had to tell him I don't work here, I play golf here."

Such slights have happened before and Walker expects they will happen again.

"You try to laugh it off," he says. "People are going to be ignorant. They don't like you if you play well. They don't like you if you are Black. People are going to find something not to like you for. …

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