HBCU golfers struggled to earn seats on the men’s PGA and women’s LPGA tours. The opportunities can sometimes be few and far between. However, these opportunities are sometimes realized through persistence and hard work.
That is certainly the case this week for former golfers Tim O’Neal and Shasta Averyhardt of Jackson State. After high-profile college careers at JSU, both have had ups and downs as those opportunities have come and gone over the years.
Winner of the Shippen Invitational
They both took their last chance when O’Neal was the men’s winner and Averahardt was one of the women’s winners at the inaugural John Shippen National Golf Invitational, a 36-hole event held June 26-28 at the historic Detroit Golf Club took place.
O’Neal shot 71-68-139 to beat a field of 21 of the nation’s top professional and amateur black golfers. His win earned a sponsor an exemption for the PGA’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, which will be played this week (July 1-4) at the same Detroit Golf Club.
Former Bethune Cookman and HBCU golfer Willie Mack III of Flint, Michigan will join O’Neal in the Rocket Mortgage division with the exception of one sponsor.
Averyheardt, a Flint, Michigan Native, teamed up with Nigerian Anita Uwadia to shoot 73-68-141 and win the women’s John Shippen Invitational title against five other two-pointers. The winning duo received a sponsorship waiver for the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational of the LPGA Tour in two weeks (July 14-17) in Midland, Michigan, which is also held as a team event.
John Shippen: A Golf Pioneer
The invitational is named after John Shippen Jr., the first US-born professional golfer. He’s also the first African American to compete professionally. He excelled in the game before the turn of the century. He finished fifth at the US Open in 1896 in Shinnecock Hills, one of the country’s first clubs. Six years later, he finished fifth in the 1902 Open at the Garden City Golf Club in Garden City, New York. Shippen was the first American to cash in at the US Open. He won $ 10 for his fifth place in 1896. The winner, James Foulis, won the first prize of $ 150.
He played in four other US Open. No other African American played at the Open until Teddy Rhodes in 1948. Shippen spent his career as a professional golfer in several clubs. He also built and sold his own clubs, which had a stamp that read “JM Shippen”. He died in 1968.
According to its website, the John Shippen Invitational aims to create golf opportunities for black men and women, ensure Shippen’s story is told and preserve his tremendous legacy. Its history includes black history and American history. A sports business summit for high school and college students was also held virtually to encourage minorities interested in jobs in the sports industry.
O’Neal grinds at 48
O’Neal of Savannah, Georgia turned pro after a stellar college career. He helped Jackson State and head coach Eddie Payton to national acclaim. O’Neal won 16 amateur titles, including the Georgia Amateur in 1997, and led the Tigers to their first NCAA tournament in 1996, becoming the first HBCU golfer to deserve such a course. In his senior season, O’Neal led the NCAA on stroke average a year after Tiger Woods topped the same national statistic at Stanford.
O’Neal, 48, turned pro in 1997, and Tiger Woods won his first Masters tournament that same year. He has played and achieved success on several secondary tours and has come painfully close to acquiring his PGA Tour card. He triple bogey on the final hole of the 2000 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament to miss his card by two strokes. The Rocket Mortgage will be his eighth career start on the PGA Tour. He missed the cut on the previous seven.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and to me, at 48, still being competitive and being able to play means a lot,” said O’Neal after his win at Shippen. “Hopefully it will inspire the guys not to give up and keep talking.”
Averyhardt is happy to play again
Averyhardt, 35, won four SWAC singles titles at JSU under Eddie Payton and five other amateur tournaments. After turning pro in 2011, she became the fourth African American to receive her LPGA Tour status, but lost it after multiple injuries. She won four mini-tour events, qualified for the US Women’s Open, and played on the LPGA Symetra Tour, where she won the Rising Star Award in 2012. In 2014, she retired from golf to pursue opportunities in the financial industry.
She returned to play in 2017 and is competing on the Symetra Tour for the 2021 season.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to play again,” said Averyhardt. “I took a break, let it grow a lot and this time having the opportunity and the support behind me means a lot to me, so I’ll take it and do my best.”