The Tiger Boom That Never Materialized

Posted by on May 17, 2019  /   Posted in golf reviews

Kobe Narcisse mainly plays high school football because his friends are on the team, but he would rather drive out drives than crushing blows.

He was introduced to golf at the age of 5 by his father, Robert, who followed the sport as an adult after Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997. And this spring, Kobe Narcisse, who is African-American is, five other students recruited, most of them baseball players, to form a golf team at his public high school outside of New Orleans.

But by the time the scholastic regional championships started, Narcisse, 14, a first-year student, was the only remaining golfer.

Most of his teammates, he said, "decided that they were not ready to play."

There would have been many Kobe Narcisses now at every level of golf – minority children who ended up in the sport after Woods broke the dam with his dominant game as a junior and with his incomparable career as a pro – or at least much more than there are. Woods, who is Thai and African-American, brought mock turtlenecks, festive uppercuts and the chiseled physique to the golf game, which changes everything about how the game looks. But predictions that his superstaron would diversify the sport have not come true.

A lack of easy access to golf courses and the high costs associated with competing have shown problems that even the emergence of a one-to-a-century star such as Woods, or the daily benevolence of teachers in education cannot solve.

Woods said on Tuesday that the time investment of golf limited his appeal to today's children, regardless of the background. "There are so many different things that children can and will go to honestly, playing five hours, five and a half hours of a sport just doesn't sound that appealing," said Woods, who could have talked about his daughter. and son, both soccer players.

Twenty-two years after Woods & 12-stroke win at Augusta National, there are only three players of African-American descent on the PGA Tour (and four with status on the LPGA Tour or the minor league- circuit, including Woods & # 39; s niece, Cheyenne Woods).

According to NCAA statistics, 6 percent of all NCAA golfers were black, Latino or Indian. Asians are the only minority group that saw a significant increase in participation rates: they represented 5.9 percent of all players in 2018, compared to 3.1 percent in 2008.

The pipeline even sputters while around 2.6 million people played golf for the first time in 2018, the four consecutive years that the number of beginners has increased, according to the National Golf Foundation.

Narcisse, who recently played in a pro-am with Jason Day, the 2015 P.G.A. champion, is a product of the First Tee, a program aimed at children under the required age, especially girls and minorities. There are others like it, including US Kids Golf and Youth on Course, and they have an impact: 35 percent of newcomers were women last year, 26 percent non-white and 70 percent 34 or younger. But while golf has made progress in introducing the game for new players, keeping them is a challenge.

"It's a tough sport," Narcisse said.

Woods was not a child of a country club. He learned on a par-3 public course in Long Beach, California, and his father, Earl, said he had taken out a second mortgage to support the development of his prodigy.

It was a good investment. When Woods turned professional, he signed a $ 40 million deal with Nike, whose chairman, Phil Knight, said, "What Michael Jordan did for basketball, Tiger can absolutely play golf." Nike became Woods & # 39; long-standing sponsor.

Woods' success caused more money to flow to the sport, which led to an arms race that in some ways made it harder for children of modest means to develop as golfers, especially if they do not come from the suburbs, where public courses are more abundant

The First Tee, a collaboration of the PGA and LPGA Tours, the United States Golf Association, Augusta National Golf Club and the PGA of America, the host organization of the P.G.A. of this week. Championship at Bethpage State Park on Long Island, offers free instruction and free entry or greatly reduced rates at affiliated courses. But the people who have to serve these programs often have to cope with major obstacles to consistently continuing with the sport.

Consider the first Tee chapter in Kansas City, Mo., which for heaven's sake is seven miles, but more than an hour away when public buses run, from the impoverished east side, where Chris Harris, 50, grew up . A natural athlete, Harris attracted to basketball, soccer and baseball, but never played golf. "Because I didn't have access to it," said Harris, who moved the earth to change that landscape.

In the past two decades, Harris has purchased troubled properties in his old neighborhood. With the help of donations and free time from his job to find housing for the homeless, he has developed the country into a sports complex with a pitch and putt job. The facility becomes the local headquarters of the First Tee.

But exposing children to the game is only the headwaters of the money flow of development. There are tournament costs and travel costs for a seemingly endless schedule. And a set of clubs, even with a discount, costs considerably more than a basketball or tennis racket.

Cameron Champ, 23, winner of a PGA Tour event of African-American descent, managed to cheer up his youth. Course participation in a tour membership, but it was not easy. He said he didn't play his first American Junior Golf Association event until he was 15, because his parents, who run a screen printing company in Sacramento, couldn't afford it. His father, Jeff, played baseball in the state of San Diego and in the Baltimore Orioles organization. He said they were considering switching to the suburbs, but chose to stay in their less expensive neighborhood and make a difference in golf spending, which Jeff said they were often $ 30,000 a year.

When Woods went on touring tournaments, his father booked their hotel for the day the event started with the elimination of an extra night. Earl Woods loosened the pouches after his son said he was at a disadvantage because he could not see the course for his first lap.

Alexis Vakasiuola, 11, and her sister, Alyzzah, 17, know that feeling. Alexis took her first flight in April and only because her trip was covered by event organizers, after qualifying for the final of the Drive, Chip and Putt competition at Augusta National. The Vakasiuolas, who are of Tongan descent, are used to riding in tournaments with their father, Danny. Until recently, the family vehicle was a Toyota 4Runner from 1992 that was twice as large as their sleeping area.

"We would go to a gas station, park and sleep, and beat a McDonald & # 39; s to breakfast and wash the toilet," the father said.

They can now stay in budget hotels because Steve Dallas, who has two Phoenix-area public courses, subsidizes their travel expenses through grants for scholarships that are then distributed by the Arizona Junior Golf Association. Dallas, who was the first instructor of the Hall of Famer Fred Couples, also lets them practice and play on his courses, Las Colinas and Apache Creek, and he is closest to a swing coach.

Generosity of the Course Builder, Harris, and Course Owner, Dallas, are caulks that prevent the game from leaking more participants. But some holes cannot be filled.

"There are girls I play with who will say they have just switched to another swing coach or that they just have a new putting coach and they think it works," Alyzzah said, adding: "It's a bit difficult. You start to think that maybe I need it. "

Like Woods at 14, the Vakasiuolas don't have a strength trainer. The first Woods training program cost $ 2.50 – the price of the January 1990 issue of Golf Digest, which includes the article "How do you get your golf muscles in shape this winter." His obsession with sports raised the bar for sportiness in sport – and the cost of success.

This is the world that Isaac and Mary Pat Rodriguez look at when they see what could come for their son Marshall, a first grader who became obsessed with golf last year. On the same Sunday Woods won his 15th big championship, Marshall, 6, broke 40 for nine holes for the first time on a course with adjusted ages – a setup similar to what Woods first coach used and described as "Tiger par."

Isaac Rodriguez searched for nearby golf courses and came across Tenison Park, east of downtown Dallas and a few miles from their home. Jess Robinson, a learning professional, worked on the range on the first day that Marshall popped up and has been by his side ever since. Like Woods & # 39; s first instructor, Rudy Duran, Robinson emphasizes the joy of playing, not the science of swing.

The Rodrigues, who have two other children, calculate the costs of developing the Marshall game. They scrambled schedules to adapt to tournaments and took him to clinics in country clubs where membership would be unreachable. They are grateful that they have found an instructor in Robinson who is willing to work with their son for much longer than they can afford comfortably.

While his parents are not worried where their son's passion for golf can lead them, Marshall's gaze is firmly focused on the future.

He can't wait for the school to arrive before the summer. "Then I can always play golf," he said.

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