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Dent sees lack of progress for African-American golfers

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

West Bloomfield — When retired golf pro Jim Dent turns on the television, he’s surprised and a bit disappointed at the lack of professional African-American golfers on the PGA and LPGA tours.

By now, Dent, who had 16 wins (12 on the Champions Tour), thought the number would have increased since he turned pro in 1966.

Yet, the growth has been stagnant. When Dent played, he was joined by Jim Thorpe, Calvin Peete, Pete Brown, Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder, among others. Today, it’s Tiger Woods.

“I really thought we’d have more (African-American pros) because you have 30-40 black colleges with golf teams,” Dent said during Monday’s 25th annual Holy Strokes Golf Classic at Pine Lake Country Club.

“I think the problem is a coaching problem.”

Simply, Dent believes players aren’t being properly taught fundamentals.

“You get the fundamentals, it’s easy,” he said at the event that was put on by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. “And that’s what we don’t have. Parents are scared to spend $1,000 for them to go get the right lessons. You spend $1,000 for that kid, he’s going to pay you that $1,000 back in a million ways. Why? Because he’s going to get the fundamentals.”

Dent added while most kids can’t afford to pay top dollar for classes with renowned instructors like a Hank Haney or Butch Harmon, there are plenty of good golf course pros who offer lessons for $100 apiece.

But for those who can, spending time with someone like Harmon, as pro Jimmy Walker did, helped turn the golfer from a virtual unknown into a well-respected golfer.

“(Walker) is out there 7-8 years on the Tour and nobody knew Jimmy Walker, but he was smart enough to go get help,” Dent said. “Look at the good players who go to good teachers. ... You go get someone you like who’s going to teach you.”

For Dent, who caddied as a youth, that person was 1933 U.S. Open and 1937 U.S. Amateur champion Johnny Goodman.

“He told me, ‘I’m going take what you got and work with what you got,’ ” Dent said.

“He’d put my hands on (the club) right and I went home one night and kept doing what he told me. I come back the next day and I didn’t even know I had changed. I worked on putting my hands where he wanted, I gripped it that way and the rest was easy.”

By the time Dent attended Paine College in Georgia in the 1960s, though, he recalled an instance when financial troubles led to a knowledgeable golf coach being replaced with a clueless basketball coach.

“You’ve got to have someone who knows the fundamentals of the game,” he said. “If you get the fundamentals, I don’t care how bad your swing or whatever is, if you can get your hands on the club right, that’s the most important thing.

“If they had better golf coaches at these black colleges, they’d have a lot more African-American golfers on the Tour.”

James Hawkins is a free-lance writer.