DETROIT – As Andrew Walker of Battle Creek has made his golf journey he has come to realize his opportunities have been greater than those afforded many black golfers, past and present.
“Growing up I didn’t always realize that, but having gone through college, having seen more of the world and matured, I realize I was given opportunities not every African-American was afforded,” he said as he contemplated playing in The John Shippen National Golf Invitational June 27-28 at Detroit Golf Club.
The John Shippen tournament, the National Invitational for Black Golfers and the Sports Business Summit for Students of Color, were established by Intersport to expand upon black representation in golf and to create awareness, access and opportunities for persons of color in the business of sports. The Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) tournament staff and rules officials will administer the competition at Detroit Golf Club.
Walker is proud to be among those invited.
“Of course, I’m unbelievably proud of my background, proud to be an African-American, and have the foot in both ponds so to speak,” Walker said. “My dad is black. My mom is white. I’ve had incredible support and an interesting world view and through that I’ve learned a lot. Being a black golfer is part of my identity as a person, a human being. I want to continue to keep wearing it well.”
In addition to Walker, the recently graduated Michigan State University standout who has turned professional, The John Shippen will include Shasta Averyhardt of Flint, a member of the LPGA’s Symetra Tour, as top black golfers competing in a tournament event designed to provide heightened opportunities and recognition for persons of color.
Walker and Averyhardt, both top amateur players over the years in GAM tournaments, will be competing for two days.
Walker will be vying for The John Shippen win and a spot in the field of the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, July 1-4, at Detroit Golf Club, and Averyhardt and a teammate will be attempting to earn a Shippen-winning team exemption into the LPGA’s unique team event, the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational at Midland Country Club, July 14-17.
Walker, who is 22 and earlier this year earned Forme Tour/MacKenzie/PGA Tour Canada status, said he had heard of The John Shippen Foundation, but once invited to the tournament set out to learn more. John Shippen Jr. is recognized as the first black golf professional and the first American-born golf professional from golf’s early stages of competition in the United States. He played in five U.S. Open Championships between 1896 and 1913.
“He had to fly under the radar and in the first U.S. Open he played in blacks were not allowed to play,” Walker said. “He signed up as a Native American. I can’t imagine what he had to go through and I realize how long people like him have been making strides so we can have opportunities now. There’s obviously still work to be done, but it’s incredible the work John Shippen and other African-Americans have done in the game of golf before us.”
Walker, who first made national news at age 14 eclipsing a Tiger Woods record as the youngest African-American U.S. Amateur qualifier in history, plans to play in the Michigan Open Championship and a Forme Tour event in Georgia prior to The John Shippen, and then will either be playing in the Rocket Mortgage Classic or head back to the Forme Tour.
“The game is in solid shape,” said the former two-time state high school champ, Michigan’s Mr. Golf and a college tournament winner. “I feel like it is firing on a lot of cylinders and I just have to bring it together for my first real solid stretch of professional golf.”
A standout student and player at MSU, Walker earned his degree in applied engineering sciences with a concentration on supply chain management, and he also minored in computer science.
“I have back-up plans if I need them, but the goal now is professional golf,” he said. “I’ve been given that opportunity and I’m grateful for the chance. I realize this opportunity in The John Shippen is the great work of a lot of people, too.”
Averyhardt, a 32-year-old five-time professional winner who had LPGA Tour status in 2011 and 2013, has championed the opportunities for persons of color as a professional golfer on social media and in formal interviews with the LPGA and others.
Currently on the Symetra Tour, she played in the recent Symetra Tour’s Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass in the Upper Peninsula and has also returned home at times to compete in the Boyne Tournament of Champions and the Michigan Women’s Open in recent years. Her GAM career is highlighted by a win in the 2005 GAM Women’s Championship and a runner-up finish in the 2007 Michigan Women’s Amateur Championship.
A television special regarding The John Shippen will air on CBS on Sunday, July 4, as part of the Rocket Mortgage Classic coverage that day.
To ensure that any financial barriers are removed, The John Shippen is covering travel costs (airfare and hotel) for participating players.
“We have been attracting highly talented black golfers from around the country to play in our inaugural event,” Jason Langwell, executive vice president of Intersport and executive director of the Rocker Mortgage Classic said in a recent press release.
“We believe that The John Shippen provides a platform on which these deserving players will compete in order to impact the unbalance of access, opportunities and equity for black golfers that has long existed in the golf industry.”
Rocket Mortgage is the presenting partner of The John Shippen. National partners include Trion Solutions, the nation’s largest minority-owned professional employer organization, DOW, The Children’s Foundation, Cooper Tires, CDW, Optum and MasterCard.