Five years ago, after a successful four-year season at Stanford University, Mariah Stackhouse started her professional career on the LPGA Tour. When Stackhouse qualified for the tour, she was the seventh African American player to qualify for the LPGA. Today she is the only active black full-time player on tour. As the 27-year-old veteran continues to seek out her first win on the tour, she recognizes that her bigger goal is to inspire the next generation of golfers and to promote diversity and inclusion within the game.
While in the game at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship this week, Stackhouse explains in her own words why she embraces her blackness in the golf world, how she wants to influence the game, and what she hopes for in terms of diversity in the sport.
The goal is to get to a point where it is not an anomaly for a young, black kid to play golf.
I think back to my early golf years. In high school everyone gave me great support because I was good. It was like, “Okay, wow, Stacks is playing golf. That’s cool.” I got the nickname “Tiger Hood” which was actually pretty funny. But Tiger was the only reference other kids had for a black golfer, which is why I remember it so vividly.
That’s why I want the next generation of golfers to see more black players. I don’t want it to be an anomaly. I want a lot of us to be in the LPGA, in college, in junior golf, in amateur golf, everywhere. This is what i want to see
Lately, I haven’t been playing as well as I would like. It’s interesting because my game isn’t bad. It’s actually pretty solid. But I’ve missed many – most – opportunities with the putter. When the putts don’t fall, you miss key par putts, and you don’t make birdie putts, then golf is the most frustrating. I don’t play badly. I am in positions that I need to be in. I just don’t connect those birdie putts. The occasional bogey, which shouldn’t matter, is important now because I am not doing these birdies during rounds to make them less effective on the scorecard.
Whether I’m playing great or having problems, I understand that I’m still one of the few black women out there, and I like to represent well. I do my best to never overwhelm myself, always carry myself with confidence, love and passion for the game. No matter what, I respect the game and the opportunities that just come from my visibility on the LPGA. It is not something that I am not aware of. It’s not something I don’t want to neglect in any way whether I do birdie putts or not. I’ve had young black girls, boys, women and men playing the game telling me how excited they are to see me out there. I understand that visibility is important. It is important that I appear for you. I hug it.
For the first time in her five-year LPGA Tour career, Stackhouse will compete in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in her hometown at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
I don’t mind being a direct voice in this area.
I know that as a professional athlete and as one of the few in the professional golf field, I am constantly visible to the media and fans. I hope we move on to reinforce other voices in this room. I think you have to go further than just reinforcing the pros because even though we have that visibility, we are actually playing the game at a professional level. We cannot focus 100% on improving and expanding the game at the base level as most of the time is spent on improving our golf game and continuing to climb the leaderboards and leaderboards.
There are several golf organizations, like the Women in Golf Foundation here in Atlanta, who work every day to expand and diversify the game. It would be great to see their voices drawn into and reinforced in these conversations too. We can’t stop with the pros when it comes to Black History Month and beyond. There are many important voices that need to be heard and just not enough of us on tour to be representative of the black golf community with our voices.
The majority of the people who play golf do so at a recreational level. It’s incredibly important to show people who leisurely enjoy the sport, people who practice a sport that is not really playing professionally. Brands like Trap Golf. Organizations such as the Chicago Women’s Golf Club and Inner City Youth Golfers. This is what it takes. It’s a full understanding of what the golf world is like right now and where we have yet to go.
Golf has traditionally been a very conservative sport as it has been slower to accept progressive change. And I see this pushback on social media and even personally when these organizations use their platforms to acknowledge things like race, gender, sexuality and more. “We don’t want to talk about that. It’s golf.” I see that these organizations need to talk about it and broadcast it. If we really strive to keep developing the game, there are some simple truths: the more people love a sport, the better the sport, the better it is, the more courses are built, the more courses we have access to. It’s a win for everyone.
I want us to get to a place where everyone can feel safe entering golf courses. For everyone who visits their local golf driving range and feels comfortable, not avoided or judged – regardless of whether it has to do with ability, gender, race, sexuality or whatever. There shouldn’t be any of that if we’re actually committed to growing the game.
Stackhouse points to the RTJ Instruction Center College Wall with her picture as she leaves the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship 2021 media day at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Kevin C. Cox / PGA of America / Getty Images
Golf executives keep getting bolder when they are willing to say, “We are here and we support all people.” It is up to all of us who currently occupy golf courses to continue to make intolerance undesirable and to be aware and loud of inclusion. The game of golf is on this journey. We must courageously continue on this path.
I often think of former professional golfer and second Black woman to ever play on the LPGA Tour, Renee Powell. She really is a legend. She still devotes her whole life to the game. She has decided from the LPGA Tour to do everything possible to help the game of golf continue to advance and become more inclusive.
When I think about Powell’s time as a professional, I can only imagine how much she endured. She had a special love for the game. And I feel like she never lets the racial hatred and experiences she grew up take away from her love and passion for this game. She made a name for herself. And it paved the way for golfers like me to have a much smoother journey into the golf world. She is not only a role model and ambassador for golf, but also symbolizes the best that people can do with the hardships of their lives. She is just a real champion.
When I look back and know her story, I think that she could have hardened many people’s hearts. Powell could have retired from the LPGA and said, “You know what? I don’t want anything else to do with the golf room. Too many golf clubs are not welcome.” But Powell said the opposite. She accepted the good she experienced and sought a way to express it more than anything else. So that’s why it’s great to see she’s been receiving all of her flowers lately. She deserves it.
That’s the kind of person I get inspired by. The attitude I want to emulate in my own life.
In 2017, Reagan met the # GirlsGolf alumna @MoStacksBirdies while attending @ ROAD2LPGA.
Today they were at @KPMGWomensPGA 💖 # LittleGirlsBIGDreams | . reunited #InspireGreatness pic.twitter.com/BdKsByOGYG
– LPGA * USGA Girls Golf (@LPGAGirlsGolf) June 25, 2021
This week, when I was playing as a professional golfer for the first time in my hometown of Atlanta, I realized I was playing out here for a little more.
Not only do I sleep in my own bed which is amazing, but my family and friends can be there too. And then there are all the young boys and girls who, like me, started playing youth golf years ago. I think this week there is confirmation from the young golfers who are coming out that they might be here one day. That’s a girl who rose through the ranks of Georgia and is now looking at her out here on the LPGA. I also acknowledge that no matter how I play this tournament is an opportunity to give back to the place that gave me golf.
“KPMG doesn’t just talk. They walk the path,” said Stackhouse, a KPMG brand ambassador. “KPMG has gone a long way in giving the Women Tour access to top courses. And the impact they have in diversifying and improving the game is invaluable.” Hunter Martin / Getty Images
I want to win for myself and my parents on the LPGA Tour. All that they endured and all of the time that they put into allowing me to follow my dreams in a sport that black women weren’t really represented in. My parents always wanted me to accept my blackness on the course.
I was raised as a golfer to truly and truly embrace my blackness, and be proud of and represent it. I try my best every time I’m on the course. I can’t tell how many little girls come to me at tournaments and when I have my hair in curls or in braids or in pigtails and the little girls say, “Oh, I wear my hair like this” “or” I like this one Style. ”The little things like identifying with young girls who look like me are just as important as the big moments like tournament wins and cuts.
There is a spectrum of effects. I would love to benefit from things like visibility and representation while here as an LPGA golfer.