While many trumpet Tiger Woods’ appearance as a breakthrough for minorities on golf (forgetting players such as Lee Elder, Charlie Sifford, and Calvin Peete), Michigan State may have started something bigger: hiring Sam Puryear—the first African American golf coach a major NCAA Division I School.
I say that this may be more significant because Americans have for a very long time accepted the idea of minorities as athletes. Tiger may have received some flak from a few crazies, but the very fact that we consider those people crazy show just how far the mainstream has come.
Not as accepted has been the idea that minorities can serve in top management positions. And top management is just what a head coach is—responsible not only for developing player skills, but also for managing budgets and programs. Just how many minority coaches are there, in relation to the number of minority players? Not as many as pure chance would suggest.
That’s not to say, however, that I think an organization should hire minorities to fulfill some guilty demand for social justice. But it is only right that when a person is qualified, they should be given a chance.
Puryear surely is eminently qualified. Before taking the Michigan State job, Puryear served as Stanford’s first full-time assistant golf coach. While there, the Cardinal jumped from 43nd to first in the polls. They captured the national title in 2007. There’s no doubt as to his contribution to that rise.
Puryear was executive director of East Lake Junior Golf Academy in Atlanta, where he managed the development of golf instruction and curriculum for an academy, serving more than 1,000 youth. While at the academy, he cultivated relationships with the PGA Tour, LPGA, and The Tour Championship, creating unique one-on-one play for Pro-Am events with academy youth and select Top 30 money winners, including Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, and Phil Mickelson. Puryear created unprecedented opportunities for junior golfers to serve as interns with Turner Sports to work at the 2005 British Open at St. Andrews, Scotland. He also cultivated a relationship with Fortune magazine and created an internship for a female junior golfer. Under his guidance, the academy grew from 150 students in 1998 to 700 in 2005.
What this rather dry quote from a Michigan State press release doesn’t say is just what kind of an impact Sam Puryear had on the poor East Lake community. For that, you need to take a look at the recent issue of Golf Week.
The impulse is to congratulate Michigan State for hiring a minority golf coach. But that, I think, would do Sam Puryear a disservice. Instead, I’ll congratulate Michigan State for hiring what looks to be an excellent golf coach. Period.