Interns steeped in golf culture at U.S. Open
Lee Elder internship program puts young golfers in front row
Last month, as 2022 U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick hoisted the trophy for photos at The Country Club’s 18th hole, Jada Richardson and Kendall Jackson were on the green. Both Division I golfers from Howard University were wrapping up a week of V.I.P. access as Lee Elder interns.
The Country Club created the internship to honor Elder, a pioneering Black golfer who was the first African American to play in the Master’s tournament and to play on a United States Ryder Cup team.
Richardson first heard about the opportunity she later called “one of the best weeks of my life” through an early-spring text message from her golf coach, Sam Puryear. Within a week, she had applied.
After interviewing, she joined her friend and teammate in the inaugural class of the Lee Elder Internship. Both just finished freshman year at Howard University, where a large gift from the NBA’s Steph Curry funds the golf teams through the 2024 season.
“I think it was a great entry point,” Richardson said of the U.S. Open’s preeminent diversity initiative. “I got to experience a lot of things I don’t think I would have even known existed otherwise, and everyone at The Country Club was super inviting.”
“Originally, I thought we were going there to work, if that makes sense,” she said. “I thought we were going to work merchandise and the volunteer tent. But, a lot of it just ended up being networking and getting to see the different aspects of golf.”
Kendall Jackson was also effusive in praising the internship.
“Boston, Massachusetts. Man. That was by far, probably one of the best experiences in my life. I am going to say, for the record, that my sleep schedule got so messed up. Oh my god.”
Simply put, she was having too much fun.
Jackson formed the best memories meeting Howard-alum Minnie Baylor-Henry and Tari Cash, CitySwing founder and daughter of Harvard professor Dr. James Cash.
“Top 2 people I was able to meet, Ms. Minnie Baylor-Henry. She is on the board of trustees at Howard. Myself and Jada sat next to her at one of the first dinners. She, honestly, was the highlight of my trip,” said Jackson.
“She’s head of B-Henry Associates. So, she’s a big deal. She’s a very big deal.”
CitySwing, the Washington D.C.-based non-profit Cash runs, uses indoor golf to foster common ground between people of different backgrounds. Throughout the week, she was with the interns.
“Every time I turned around,” said Jackson of Tari Cash, “she was talking to somebody new. And, not just talking at them, but talking with them. Trying to put them in the best position possible.”
“She’s been around the sport forever,” Jackson continued, “and she’s been able to, obviously, be in this position now thanks to golf.”
In June, CitySwing launched The Golf Truck, a 35-foot trailer fitted with simulators and games for golfers of every level.
Other innovative ideas were sourced from interns in a pitch competition run by the United States Golf Association. Seven finalists of interns presented to USGA CEO Michael Whan.
Richardson’s Quick Pick, a mobile vehicle to loan golf clubs to new players, finished second. Top-3, including Jordan Scott and Yordan Villalon, won invites to the 2023 U.S. Open in Los Angeles.
For Jackson, the pitches felt like TED-talks without visuals. She proposed All Things Golf, a virtual-reality introduction to golf’s historic moments, statistics, and fundamentals.
“As long as you bring that energy level, you are good,” she said. ‘Jada and I are both in the school of business, we have now done numerous presentations. So, now we know what to look for.”
This spring, the entire Howard women’s golf team made the Northeast Conference Academic Honor Roll. Both Jackson and Richardson made the commissioner’s list with GPAs over 3.75.
“Our golf program has attracted stellar student-athletes who are well-rounded and represent the university,” said Howard Athletic Director Kery Davis.
Praising golf’s integrity, Davis said, “It’s the one sport where you call a penalty on yourself. You have to embrace that part of the culture.”
“Since golf is an individual sport, there’s no referee, nobody else to blame,” said Jackson. “If you miss that putt, that is on you.”
“Golf requires a lot of discipline. Mentally, you’ve just got to be tough about it,” Richardson acknowledged, “Some days, it gets hard.”
Jada Richardson, like Jackson, was introduced to golf at age 6. She attended summer camp at Laurel Springs Golf Club in Suwanee, Georgia.
In Texas, The First Tee of Greater Houston taught Kendall Jackson golf and life skills like firm handshakes or public speaking. Her interest in golf later flourished under the guidance of Tiffany Fitzgerald and Black Girls Golf.
“If you are interested in golf, give it a try,” said Richardson. “It’s not easy at first, but it definitely gets easier. It was a lot of hard work. You can definitely make it in golf and it’s fun.”
In Massachusetts, The First Tee runs programs at Franklin Park in Boston and D.W. Field in Brockton, among other locales.