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Column: Faint indicators of progress on the dwelling of the Masters | Sports activities



AUGUSTA, Ga. — The solely coloration Harold Varner III was targeted on at his first Masters was purple.

And perhaps, if he let his thoughts wander only a bit, there was a considered inexperienced.

As in a inexperienced jacket.

Hardly wanting like a rookie within the more and more fierce circumstances at windy Augusta National, the 31-year-old North Carolinian posted his second straight below-par spherical on Friday — a pair of purple numbers that pushed him into competition heading to the weekend.

But let’s discuss one other coloration.

Varner is Black, and he’s apparently a part of one thing unprecedented at a course that cherishes its historical past and traditions as a lot as every other, though lots of them are relics of a a lot uglier period.

It’s believed to be the primary time that three Black golfers — on this case, Varner, Tiger Woods and Cameron Champ — have been a part of a Masters subject.

“That’s cool,” Varner mentioned. “I would hope to see more, but it’s going to be up to that 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 that’s awesome.”

Coming on the heels of America’s racial reckoning in the summertime of 2020 and the loss of life a couple of months in the past of Augusta pioneer Lee Elder, the importance of this second shouldn’t be ignored.

But it shouldn’t be made into one thing larger than it’s.

1 / 4-century faraway from Woods’ historic first Masters victory, there are nonetheless far too few Black gamers in golf’s pipeline. A sport that lengthy discriminated towards folks of coloration nonetheless has an terrible lengthy methods to go to get extra of them on the course.

Think of it this fashion: Three Black golfers characterize a mere 3.3% of the 91 gamers who certified for the primary main of the 12 months. Woods stays the one Black golfer to win a serious championship.

Varner is aware of {that a} lack of entry is without doubt one of the large issues dealing with potential Black golfers.

This is an costly sport to play. The greatest programs are hardly ever positioned in Black communities. Varner hopes that his Masters debut will assist to interrupt down a few of these boundaries.

“I think a lot of times in the Black community, it’s more about the economic issues,” he mentioned. “It’s just hard to play golf. You can’t just walk up and play golf for a reasonable price. I’m very adamant about helping those people. If they’re Black, I’m going to help them. If they’re white, I’m going to help them.”

It’s comprehensible that Varner needs to be generally known as greater than a Black golfer. He needs folks to respect him for the standard of his photographs fairly than the colour of his pores and skin.

“I’ve never been asked about being a Black golfer until I got on the PGA Tour,” he mentioned.

Of course, it was greater than economics that stored Black golfers off the very best programs for the majority of the game’s historical past.

The PGA of America had a repulsive “Caucasian-only” rule till 1961. It wasn’t till 1975 that Elder grew to become the primary Black participant to qualify for the Masters. Augusta National didn’t enable its first Black member till 1990 — and solely then to slip by means of the controversy over Shoal Creek Country Club internet hosting the PGA Championship whereas refusing to permit Black golfers as members.

Augusta National’s sexist facet additionally was rekindled this week, when Chairman Fred Ridley was requested in regards to the tenth anniversary of the membership permitting girls as members.

Yep, that no-brainer of a call was a mere decade in the past.

“Our culture is better,” Ridley mentioned, sounding nearly apologetic that it took so lengthy. “We are a better club, a better organization, and we’re proud to have women among our membership.

“When anything happens or any idea that you had turns out well and you’re pleased about it, you might always say, ‘Well, why didn’t we do that sooner?’ That’s a fair thought. I wish we would have.”

The similar applies to Augusta National’s method to racial issues.

It was solely after protests rocked the nation in the summertime of 2020 that the membership felt compelled to essentially get entangled.

Elder was invited to hit the ceremonial opening tee shot on the 2021 Masters, although by then — on the age of 86 — he was too feeble to really swing the membership alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. That could be Elder’s remaining Masters; he died this previous November.

Augusta National additionally funded golf scholarships in Elder’s identify for traditionally black Paine College, in addition to backing the start-up of a girls’s golf program on the faculty positioned a mere 4 miles from Magnolia Lane.

Maybe if Augusta National had gotten behind these kind of initiatives 20 or 30 years in the past, as a substitute of clinging stubbornly to the previous for a lot too lengthy, there would have been greater than three Black gamers on the this Masters.

But, for now at the very least, we’ll should be content material with the faint indicators of progress that will likely be on show this weekend on the Masters.

Varner will likely be taking part in in one of many remaining teams Saturday. Champ was assured of creating the minimize. And Woods, in his first aggressive match since a devastating automobile wreck 14 months in the past, was in place to get by means of after an electrifying opening spherical.

As he ready to putt on No. 18, Varner even allowed himself to consider what would possibly occur Sunday night.

“I was messing with my caddie,” he mentioned. “I was like, ‘What if you had this to win?’ Yeah, I think about it all the time.”

Let’s hope others are excited about it, too.

Never earlier than have children of coloration had so many gamers they might relate to at Augusta National.

“I think it represents that those guys have played really well,” Varner mentioned. “In professional sports, that scoreboard doesn’t read color.”

Paul Newberry is a nationwide sports activities columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963.




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