GALLOWAY, N.J. — On Saturday night in his home in Blue Bell, Bryan Wright told his 9-year-old daughter Callie they would be going to the ShopRite LPGA Classic tournament the next morning. Callie was excited, but she’s been playing golf for a couple of years, and she’s sharp.
“OK,” she replied. “But, Daddy, I don’t see a lot of girls with brown skin playing on TV.”
“I didn’t have an answer for that,” he told me Sunday.
But he knew that Mariah Stackhouse was in the tournament, and he knew she was talented, and so he hoped for the best. When they showed up, he discovered that Stackhouse was tied for second place among players who had completed their second round (play was suspended Saturday). No African American woman had ever finished better than second in an LPGA event. Stackhouse stood at 8 under and was four behind the leader as the third round commenced, but with a benign wind and a soft course, the Wrights had a chance to witness history.
That didn’t happen, but the Wrights still saw something special. Stackhouse stumbled early Sunday, but rallied for a 3-under 68, which left her at 11 under and in seventh place, the best showing of of her two-year career. More significant, only three of the seven other African American women to have played in an LPGA event have finished higher. Althea Gibson finished second at the 1970 Len Immke Buick Open, Renee Powell tied for fourth at the 1972 Lady Errol Classic, and Cheyenne Woods, Tiger’s niece, finished tied for sixth at the Cambia Portland Classic in 2016.
“I thought it was cool!” Callie said.
It was cool. For everyone.
“For me, growing up, Tiger was somebody to look up to. He was the only black player out there competing, man or woman,” Stackhouse said. “I don’t watch tennis a lot, but I feel inspired when I see Serena [Williams] out there playing. It’s an opportunity to inspire.”
It’s an opportunity accepted.
When Stackhouse dropped a 10-foot put for birdie on the 13th hole, Callie shot Bryan an I-told-you-so look. A few feet away, her 7-year-old sister, Brianna, was leaning against their mother, Shequssa, who had her arms around her. She turned her head and looked up and smiled, as if to say, “That could be me one day.”
It could, but Brianna has been playing for only about a year. She’ll have to work hard to catch Stackhouse.
Stackhouse was a prodigy growing up outside of Atlanta, and she got so good so fast that her father, Ken, quit caddying for her when she was 10.
She’s 5-foot-6, so petite that she has to take exaggerated strides to pace off her putts. She has a natural athleticism, which makes sense, since her father ran track in college and his first cousin, Jerry, was the No. 3 overall pick by the Sixers in 1995.
Given those genes, it’s little wonder that Mariah found her legs on the LPGA Tour so quickly. She has made seven consecutive cuts and nine of 11 this season. Sunday put $44,724 in per pocket, which moved 2018’s total to $127,230, the most any African American woman has made in a single season on the LPGA Tour. Cheyenne Woods made $106,005 in 2016, and has made $253,170 in her career, which is the most of any African-American woman, but probably not for long. Stackhouse is only $$4,480 behind.
All of the milestones Stackhouse has eclipsed and all of the marks she is approaching are coincidental to her.
“I don’t think about that at all,” she said. “I mean, I think I also inspire young girls who aren’t black.”
Stackhouse is right.
It was her modest size, her modest power, and her sound, simple swing that drew the admiration of Julia Genuardi, a standout junior at West Chester University.
“Seeing someone her size and her age really go at it encourages me to go at it,” said Genuardi, who is not black. “This is just a really good opportunity to see her play.”
Genuardi drove down from Lansdale with her father, Jerry, and her sister, Josie, a senior who plays for North Penn High School, and who is such a Paula Creamer fan that she colored her hair hot pink.
That’s the same color of the shirts the Wright sisters wore. Callie also plays tennis, just as Stackhouse did — at least she did before her tennis instructor told her father, Ken, that her golf swing was affecting her tennis swing. Ken kept her in golf, and he figured she might play her way into college, but he never would have predicted that the oldest of his four children would become such a symbol of achievement.
“That’s hard to believe,” he said, as Mariah tapped in for birdie at No. 18. “I consider that a blessing.”
A few feet away, a third-grader and a first-grader with matching sleeveless shirts and matching brown skin considered her a blessing, too.