By Steven Gorgei
LOS ANGELES — The Genesis Invitational is an event that honors Charlie Sifford, the first Black golfer on the PGA Tour, with a photo near the first tee and a tournament exemption in his honor. Now, in the centennial year of Sifford’s birth, the event held at Riviera Country Club has introduced the Pathway Player program in an effort to diversify the game of golf.
The Pathway Player initiative provides a player with a minority background an opportunity to compete in the tournament’s Collegiate Showcase, a better-ball pro-am event that groups a professional golfer, a college golfer and two amateurs together. The college golfer with the lowest individual score earns an exemption into the Genesis Invitational’s main field, while the best team score earns a $50,000 donation to the school’s golf program. The Pathway Player receives entry into the event and travel to the tournament for him and his program. Tournament organizers also plan to partner with the selected player to invest in causes that improve access to the game of golf.
“We’re looking to help provide golfers with opportunities,” Genesis Invitational tournament director Mike Antolini said. “We’re going to look to see how TGR Live and the Genesis Invitational sends support to not only the players and potentially the programs based on the need and impact these players represent. But also, how we can look, whether it’s supporting HBCU golf programs or the APGA collegiate players, to really just do our part to quite literally support the paths for these young, young players.”
In 2009, the event created an exemption into the main tournament field for a golfer representing a minority background. In 2017, the exemption was named the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption. But even with the exemption, this year’s 120-person field includes just three Black participants. In a continuing effort to diversify the sport, tournament organizers looked to the college ranks, where in 2021 just 2% of men’s golfers were Black, according to the NCAA’s demographics database, and created the Pathway Player program to support minority golfers with professional aspirations.
“Diversity is great for everything,” said Ethan Mangum, a William & Mary graduate student who became the first Pathway Player on Monday. “These type of opportunities are important because it opens up the door for a lot of people that never might have had an opportunity to be one round away from the PGA Tour.”
As the event looked for Pathway Player candidates, Mangum became an obvious choice. William & Mary had expressed interest in the event and held an intrateam competition throughout the fall to see who would represent the school at Riviera. Mangum won the event, and he became a clear choice as the Pathway Player for a variety of reasons.
“As we looked at Pathway Player candidates, everything that Ethan embodies not only on the course, but off the course with academics as well, he really kind of rose to the top,” Antolini said.
Both academic and athletic success are nothing new to Mangum, a master of public policy candidate who was named to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference All-Academic Team as a senior at Florida A&M and will be participating in a British Parliament internship program next academic year.
Athletically, Mangum won the 2021 MEAC individual men’s golf title and led the Rattlers to their first team conference championship and an NCAA regional berth. Mangum said his passion for golf is driven by the exposure and success he had at a young age.
“I actually started off playing golf when I was 2 years old,” Mangum said. “I fell in love with it very young. I competed in my first event when I was 5 years old, and I actually won. So for me, I’ve always been a part of golf.”
Although Mangum finished tied for 11th in the 17-player Collegiate Showcase, the day still felt special for him.
“This is the type of day that I’ve been looking forward to my entire life,” Mangum said. “It was awesome out there today. I mean, the conditions were impeccable. Not a cloud in the sky, as you can see.”
The Sifford Memorial Exemption and the Pathway Player initiative are intended to make the Genesis Invitational more accessible to minority golfers at the highest levels of the sport, but improving inclusivity in youth golf is also a focus for both Antolini and Mangum.
Expanding golf academies that immerse children of all backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses in the game of golf is critical to this effort, according to Mangum. Working to create more academies like these in the United States is something that Mangum would like to do once he starts his professional career. Antolini plans to work with Mangum and future Pathway Players to understand their journey and identify opportunities to improve inclusivity at various levels of golf.
“As we know, a lot of these kids, they just need an opportunity,” Antolini said. “It’s really about finding and providing those opportunities, and when the necessary support aligns itself with that, that’s when really the magic happens.”
Steven Gorgei is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @GorgOnSports.