A Hero on the Field Nobody Off It

By George WhiteSeptember 30, 2003, 4:00 pm
I never knew Althea Gibson. I never saw her play. I never faced the insults that she did, never felt the sting of racial absurdities that she felt. But if I had, I would have been a much stronger person.
Althea Gibson died Sunday at the age of 76. She was the first black player to try the LPGA, before that, a world-class tennis player who won Wimbledon in 57 and 58. Unfortunately for her ' and us, incidentally ' she happened along during the era of racial stupidity. Ignorance was not just a fault of the country; it was a huge dark stain on the national conscience.
Althea was an outstanding tennis player in the 50s and a professional golfer for a decade, beginning in the early 60s. Sports heroes who happened to be borned black may have been treated better than their dark-skinned brothers in this age of illiteracy, but only marginally so. Black athletes were appreciated for their athletic skills, but when the lights went out and everyone went home from the arena, the situation reverted back to what it always had been. Jackie Robinson might have been a hero while he was playing games with the Dodgers, but the other 18 hours of the day, he was just a Negro, something less than human.
The same with Althea. She was a problem child in Harlem, a young tough who often ran away from home. At the age of 12, her father wanted her to be a prizefighter ' though, of course, there was no such thing as female prizefighters. She had ideas of her own, however, and occupied her time whacking a rubber ball off a brick wall. She met Fred Johnson, a one-armed tennis coach, and set about learning to play.
Gibson rose to athletic stardom and learned about the ignorance of racial prejudice at roughly the same time. It was nasty being a tennis star ' she was a major household name on the court, but much less off it. It was even worse when she became a professional golfer in 1963.
Never particularly strident in her beliefs, Gibson offered not to play in tournaments where her presence might embarrass the LPGA. However, Lenny Wirtz, the commissioner at that time, came up strong for her.
Gibson played in the Babe Zaharias Open at Beaumont, Texas, in 1964, though the club decreed that Gibson could not enter the clubhouse. When club members attempted to impose the same condition on Gibson in 65, Wirtz withdrew the LPGAs sponsorship and no tournament was held. Ironically, she had been named the Babe Zaharias Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958 for her tennis stardom.
Some clubs called their tournaments invitationals instead of opens to justify refusing Gibson and fellow black Renee Powell the opportunity to play.
Though incidents like this repeatedly occurred, Gibson quickly put them out of her mind. She did an interview with British golf writer Liz Kahn for Kahns book, The LPGA: The Unauthorized Version, in which she dismissed the incidents out of hand.
Ive had problems, she said, but Ive forgotten the details. Ive forgotten a lot of the things that Ive gone through over the years. After theyve happened, theyre over. I dont need to hem and haw about them.
Theres a lot that I dont remember. I dont know whether Im lazy or I dont want to remember.
Of course, it was because she didnt want to remember. The palookas who refused to accept her as a fellow human were exhibiting their own infantile subhuman attitudes. Gibson chose to accept and deal with the gross injustices in her own way, becoming a giant in stoicism and in turning the other cheek.
When I was on tour in the 1960s, she told Kahn, I enjoyed it because I liked traveling from city to city. Ive always been a loner, but gradually I got a little friendly with some of the girls. Marlene Hagge and I liked each other. Shes a nice person who appreciated my talent as the first black woman on tour.
It was interesting how Hagge and Gibson first became friends. Hagge arrived in Columbus, Ohio, about midnight one year, just in time to witness Gibson being refused a hotel room because ' surprise! ' she was black.
Horrified, Hagge quickly marched up to Gibson and said, Come on in with me. Hagge demanded Gibson room with her. And over the years, the two became frequent road roommates.
She probably doesnt want to remember the prejudice, Hagge told Kahn. There have been some black militants in sport, but Althea was smart and never militant. We had trouble, especially in the South, and we said we wouldnt play unless Althea could be treated like everyone else.
Still, Gibson felt the hatred, boiling over underneath the surface. She was allowed to play many places, but always, she was made aware that she was different.
I was her friend, said Hagge. She was a very nice person. I felt good about being able to help someone, and we were equal friends. If she was your friend and knew you were on her side, she would do anything for you.
Martina Navratilova, herself an outstanding woman athlete 20 years later, paid homage to Gibson Sunday. She was a great champion and great person. We had a good relationship - she was always there for me even when I was a nobody,' Martina Navratilova told the Associated Press.
'Her life was very difficult, but she broke down a lot of barriers and doors and made it easier for a lot of us.'
I tried to set an example for future young Negro women, Gibson once said. I set an example of courtesy, obeying the rules and not going against officialdom. Thats the way I lived, the way I wanted to live for those others coming one day in the future. I like to say, Althea Gibson set a good example for others to follow.
She died with her dignity fully intact. She stood straight and tall, even when others were stooping to the ground with their racial prejudices and practices. The world, be it noted, has lost a great human being.
Email your thoughts to George White
Getty Images

After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

Getty Images

Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

Getty Images

Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

Getty Images

Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry