Black golfer Gregory Odom Jr. does it the hard way. Can it be easier?

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  Black golfer Gregory Odom Jr. does it the hard way.  Can it be easier?

Gregory Odom Jr. ponders the question on a daily basis.

Why aren’t more black golfers playing professional golf?

“Let’s be honest …” said Odom

And then this Memphis native who plays golf at Howard University began to explain the reality of finding a solution to the problem the sport has tried to solve for decades.

This week, when the PGA Tour brings the third and final World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational to Memphis, golfers from all over the world will be in the field. Two pillars of Memphis – FedEx and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – are endlessly highlighted for their support and charitable endeavors.

Gregory Odom Jr. of Memphis poses with the trophy after winning the Men's Division I title at the PGA Works Collegiate Championship in May as a member of the Howard University men's golf team.

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But in a city like Memphis, which is nearly 65% ​​black, there is only one black golfer – Cameron Champ – with a chance to win. However, another golfer will be on site on Wednesday to speak to a group of middle and high school children in Memphis in the hopes that he can motivate them to take the same trip as him.

Odom, 20, may not play at TPC Southwind this week, but he could be the main golfer there as he has already achieved it all and can do it for years to come.

“Black kids in Memphis don’t really know how to get started in golf in order to be competitive and to excel,” Odom said. “I feel like I had to do it the hard way, but I definitely know there is an easier way.”

The importance of mentors

Odom’s journey began when he was 4 at Irene Golf and Country Club because his father loved to play too. Gregory Odom Sr. was by nature competitive, always striving to score first in scramble competitions, and always looking for a friendly bet to add some spice to the course.

Memphis Middle CollegeÕs Gregory Odom tees off during the finals of the TSSAA Division I Small Division Boys' Golf Championship, on Wednesday September 27, 2017, at WillowBrook Golf Club in Manchester.

Odom adopted the same mindset, using The First Tee program, a group of older friends with Irene whom he wanted to defeat, and a swing he invented while watching YouTube videos to create a force in the To become the amateur scene of Memphis.

He eventually set a new course record in Irene, finished second in the state tournament while playing for Middle College High School, and earned a spot on the University of Memphis golf team.

For this reason, however, it could have been easier: Odom said that it wasn’t until Memphis that he actually had “my first lesson”.

“Some people think that just because you go to the golf course or the driving range, you’re doing it,” says Odom. “But if you’ve actually had a mentor or something that actually shows you how to do something, because if you have the right resources and the right mentor, that will help.”

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What has happened to Odom since he left Memphis confirms this.

He joined Howard last school year after Howard received six years of money for his men’s and women’s teams through a seven-figure donation from NBA superstar Stephen Curry.

Gregory Odom Jr., shown here playing golf at Middle College High School in Memphis, will speak to a group of black teenagers in Memphis on Wednesday as part of an outreach program at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

Then, in May, Odom won the PGA Works Collegiate Championship at the famous TPC Sawgrass Course in Florida. It was the greatest success of his career, but under unfortunate circumstances. The victory came just days after the death of his father, who struggled with chronic kidney failure and dementia for years.

With a few months’ perspective now, Odom says he still thinks of his father when he has a big putt. “Let’s do this, Pops,” he will tell himself, and there was no doubt that his father wanted to play him in this tournament.

“Golf has always been my valve,” said Odom. “We had great times on the golf course so it was like he was with me the whole time.”

The journey was just beginning.

Inspirational future black golfers

Odom’s victory in May allowed him to compete in two Korn Ferry Tour events last month. He came home last week to win the Memphis Amateur Championship.

“That put my name on the map,” said Odom. “I feel like I’ve always been a good player, but it takes an event for people to really recognize it. Nobody cares unless you actually win. “

Odom’s story of how he overcome the heartbreak for the greatest achievement of his young career and emerged as a promising black golfer in Memphis caught the attention of Darrell Cobbins, president of the 100 Black Men of Memphis.

The plan was to bring a group of teenagers, interested in golf or not, to last year’s WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational for a behind-the-scenes look at how a PGA Tour event goes. The pandemic put all of that on hold.

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This year, however, the pilot is back and Cobbins had a query to Tournament Director Darrell Smith: Can we get Odom to speak to us?

“We need him to speak to these young people because our national motto is what they see, what they will be, which means that young people should emulate and strive for what they believe is possible,” said Cobbins. “And hopefully when you see Greg Odom, who went to middle college high school and became a champion, it inspires some of you to say that I can become a champion. But if I don’t become a champion, I can be Darrell Smith too. Hopefully it will ignite a spark and do something good for these young people. “

Because of this, the answer to the question Odom thinks about every day is probably not the right question.

Why do the few aspiring black golfers we already have lack the support and resources they need?

“You need this big brother to really help you along the way, or at least give you advice on how to get to the top or how to get to the top,” Odom said. “It will be nice to talk to some kids about it.”

And maybe the hard road Odom has taken is not that difficult for them.

You can email Commercial Appeal Columnist Mark Giannotto at mgiannotto@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto

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