Augusta, Ga. ( Associated Press) – Harold Warner III focused only on red in his first Masters.
And maybe, if he let his mind wander a bit, the idea of green came.
Like in a green jacket.
Looking like a rookie in increasingly fierce conditions at Augusta National, the 31-year-old North Carolinian posted his second straight below-par round on Friday – a pair of red numbers that pushed him into contention over the weekend.
But let’s talk about another color.
Warner is Black, and apparently he is part of something phenomenal, that cherishes its history and traditions as much as any other, even though many of them are relics of a very ugly era.
It is believed to be the first time three black golfers – in this case, Warner, Tiger Woods and Cameron Champ – have been part of the Masters arena.
“It’s good,” Warner said. “I’d expect to see more, but it’s up to the person. It’s not going to be the color of their skin that’s going to get them here. You’re going to get here on merit, and I think it’s going to be It’s great.”
Following America’s racial reckoning in the summer of 2020 and the death of Augusta pioneer Lee Elder a few months earlier, the importance of this moment should not be overlooked.
But it should not be made anything bigger than this.
A quarter-century removed from Woods’ historic first Masters win, there are still very few black players in golf’s pipeline. A sport that has long discriminated against people of color still has an awfully long way to go in getting more of them on the course.
Think of it this way: Three black golfers represent only 3.3% of the 91 players who qualify for the year’s first Major. Woods remains the only black golfer to win a major championship.
Warner knows that lack of access is one of the big problems facing potential black golfers.
This is an expensive game. The best courses are rarely located in black communities. Warner hopes his Masters debut will help break some of those barriers.
“I think a lot of times in the black community, it’s more about economic issues,” he said. “Playing golf is hard. You can’t just walk upstairs and play golf for a reasonable price. I’m very adamant about helping those guys. If they’re black, I’m going to help them. If they are white, so I’m going to help them.”
It makes sense that Warner would want to be known as more than a black golfer. He wants people to respect him for the quality of his shots rather than the color of his skin.
“I was never asked about being a black golfer until I got on the PGA Tour,” he said.
Of course, it was much more than economics that kept black golfers off the best courses for a large part of the game’s history.
The US PGA had a repulsive “Caucasian-only” rule until 1961. It was not until 1975 that Elder became the first black player to qualify for the Masters. Augusta National didn’t allow its first black member until 1990—and only then to slide through a dispute over Shoal Creek Country Club, which hosted the PGA Championship—by refusing to allow black golfers as members.
Augusta National’s sexist side was also rekindled this week, when president Fred Ridley was asked about the club’s 10th anniversary of allowing women as members.
Yes, a decade ago a decision was a no brainer.
“Our culture is better,” Ridley said, almost apologizing that it took so long. “We are a better club, a better organization, and we are proud to include women in our membership.
“When anything happens or an idea you did well and you’re happy about it, you can always say, ‘Well, why didn’t we do it sooner?’ It’s a fair idea. I wish we had.”
The same applies to Augusta National’s approach to racial matters.
It was only after protests broke out in the country in the summer of 2020 that the club really felt compelled to join.
Elder was invited to hit the formal opening tee shot at the 2021 Masters, although by then – aged 86 – he was too weak to really swing the club with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. He will be the last Masters of the Elder; He died last November.
Augusta National historically supported a golf scholarship named after Elder for Black Penn College, as well as the start of a women’s golf program at the school just 4 miles from Magnolia Lane.
Maybe if Augusta National had pushed back such an initiative 20 or 30 years ago, instead of clinging to the past for a very long time, there would have been more than three black players at this Masters.
But, for now at least, we’ll have to be content with the mild signs of progress that will be showing at the Masters later this week.
Warner will play in one of the final groups on Saturday. The champ was assured of making the cut. And Woods, in his first competitive tournament since a disastrous car wreck 14 months earlier, was in a position to pass through an electrifying opening round.
As he prepared to put on No 18, Warner allowed himself to contemplate what could happen on Sunday evening.
“I was messing with my caddy,” he said. “I was like, ‘What if you had this to win?’ Yeah, I think about it all the time.”
Let’s hope others are thinking about it too.
Never before have kids of color had so many players they could relate to at Augusta National.
“I think it shows that those guys have played really well,” Warner said. “In professional sports, he doesn’t read the scoreboard color.”
Paul Newbery is a national sports columnist for the Associated Press. Find him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . write on
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