The John Shippen National Golf Invitational was established by Intersport to identify historical barriers and expand upon Black representation in the sport of golf to create awareness, access, and opportunities for persons of color in the business of sports. The event is named after John Shippen, Jr., the first American-born golf professional and first Black golf professional. Shippen earned his PGA of America membership, posthumously, in 2009.
Despite Shippen becoming the first American born golf professional, and the country’s first black golf professional, there is still a current lack of representation of black golf professionals in the PGA and LPGA. In fact, there are only six black golf professionals, with four in the PGA and two in the LPGA, equaling less than 1% of America Club Professionals in total.
Despite golf being an 84-billion-dollar industry, African-Americans are greatly underrepresented in the world of golf. These statistics do not reflect a lack of talented Black golfers, but rather, the limited access and resources for persons of color. Historical barriers for Black golfers have often included consistent access to championship courses, quality golf equipment, top-rated swing coaches, sponsorships, and funding for housing and travel. Getting to the highest level of golf is tough and requires a lot of money, which is where the John Shippen Invitational comes in.
The invitational is a 36-hole golf competition held at the historic Detroit Golf Club, where the nation’s top Black amateur and professional golfers are invited to compete (this year it is being held on June 27-28, 2021). The men’s field competed for a sponsor exemption to the Rocket Mortgage Classic, while the women’s field worked toward sponsor exemptions for the LPGA’s Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational. In the case of the Rocket Mortgage classic, the sponsor exemptions were given to the players who competed in and won the John Shippen Invitational the weekend prior to the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
The field of the first ever John Shippen Invitational was a stacked one, featuring 21 men ranging from college golfers to some professionals trying to make the PGA tour. One of the competitors was Timothy O’Neil, who has been golfing professionally for 20 years but never achieved the big break he wanted. During the first round on Sunday, he fired off a 71 which saw him near the top of the leaderboard sitting at -1. After a slow start and falling short on a couple of shots behind the lead, Tim took off on the back 9 and shot a 68 to earn a -5, enough to win the first annual John Shippen Invitational.
In a post round interview, O’Neil stated that “Shippen coming along and having this exemption for players to get exposure to play in the Rocket Mortgage is huge. Hopefully, more guys coming behind me will be doing the same thing next year.” Asked if he thinks this will open up some opportunities for Black golfers, or if he was the ideal first winner for the event since he’s been working to go to the PGA for so long, Tim said, “Yeah, I guess so. I’ve been doing this for a long time. For me, at 48, being able to compete and play means a lot to me. Hopefully, it’s going to inspire guys to keep grinding.”
The women’s format of the tournament was a little different. They played with partners so that both women would be able to win an exemption to play in the LPGA Tour’s Dow Great Lakes Invitational. There were 12 women who were competing for the spot on the LPGA Tour. After two days of hard-fought golf, Shasta Averyhardt of Flint Michigan, and Anita Uwadia of Newcastle, England, brought home the title, beating the next closest team by two strokes.
In the post round interview, the ladies were asked if they were feel proud to carry that banner of winning the first annual tournament? They responded with “Well, obviously we’re going to embrace it, and we’re very thankful for the opportunity. This is a great way to honor Mr. Shippen. We’re going to stay in the present and in the moment, just one shot at a time. That is like a cliche, but we don’t want to put too much pressure on ourselves. We still want to enjoy it and have fun. For us to win the inaugural, that means a lot, and hopefully in the next couple years we’ll have more people in the event. It’s really cool.”
The John Shippen Invitational is something that will hold a special place not only at the Detroit Golf Club, but also because it’s the only event of its kind in existence. What the John Shippen Invitational can do for people who are trying to chase their dreams and get exposure to professional events is nothing short of incredible.
“Golf is a multi-billion-dollar industry and it lacks diversity. We’re building a platform, two events that showcase the intersection of diversity, inclusion, and golf.” Says Jason Langwell, Executive Director, Rocket Mortgage Classic & Co-Creator, THE JOHN SHIPPEN