How a Black PGA club pro from Delaware is trying to help make golf more diverse

The golf course can be a lonely place for a Black man or woman.

“You still often feel like you’re the only one,” said Earl Cooper.

The Wilmington, Delaware resident is exactly that — a solitary figure.

The Professional Golf Association has 29,000 certified pros. Just 165 of them are African-American, including Cooper, according to the PGA.

“There’s this common thread that we have that brings us all together in loving golf,” Cooper said. “But, at the end of the day, golf has a very racial background. Segregation and exclusivity has definitely been within that sport.’’

In 1961, the PGA actually removed a “Caucasian-only” clause from its bylaws that belatedly opened the doors for minority golfers. Many more opportunities were available by the time Cooper, now 31, became a PGA teaching pro.

Yet, he still inexperienced episodes of unfairness which he attributed to his race. He recalled a tournament in his mid-teens when, after returning home, directors called to say he’d been disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Another golfer said he’d written down a nine when he scored a 10 on a hole.

“If I’m getting nines and 10s I’m not winning,” Cooper said, able to laugh at the memory now. “It hurt because nobody wanted to hear my side of the story.”

As a pro, Cooper was mistaken several times for a caddy, valet or member of the wait staff, he said.

While the PGA has had a diversity and inclusion program aimed at growing the sport, it has long been branded as the domain of affluent and white participants.

Former Wilmington Country Club pro Earl Cooper is now Wilmington mayor Mike Purzycki’s community referral specialist but continues to teach golf.

After George Floyd’s May death and the national outcry for racial justice that followed, Cooper sought to bring the PGA more into the BlackLivesMatter conversation. He found a receptive audience after putting together a video in which he and other PGA pros, Black and white, made “Black Lives Matter” statements. It ended with Cooper asking the PGA of America “to stand with us” and make the same proclamation.

It led to the PGA making a video as part of the “8:46” campaign CBS has launched to raise awareness about racial injustice. Floyd’s death came after a Minneapolis policeman put a knee to his neck for what was initially reported to be 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

The video has aired and will continue to during telecasts of this weekend’s PGA Championship on ESPN Friday and CBS Saturday and Sunday at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.

Earl Cooper in his youth golf days. (Delaware News Journal)

“When you go through these experiences,” Cooper said in the video, “it’s like, man, I love the game so why are you treating me this way?”

During the video, Cooper is shown in a News Journal article written about him when

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By: Kevin Tresolini
Title: How a Black PGA club pro from Delaware is trying to help make golf more diverse
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Published Date: Sun, 09 Aug 2020 10:00:13 +0000

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