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Once In PGA Spotlight, James Black Tries to Inspire Others

June 18, 1994

CHARLOTTE (AP) _ He missed out on sponsor endorsements and country club privileges, so James Black is working with inner-city kids so they might have the chances he didn’t.

Thirty years ago, he was one of a dozen blacks trying to make it in golf. Black got through a qualifier and onto the course at the Los Angeles Open. His career didn’t get far beyond that, but it did pave the way for what he now considers a more important mission.

″These kids need to be focused more in an educational avenue than any other avenue that I know,″ said Black in an interview at his regular job, director of promotions at Sunset Hills Public Golf Course. ″What we try to do with golf is use golf as a way of life.″

The larger effort is the Ratcliffe Golf Service 1994 Junior Golf Prorgram, a series of four-day clinics and seven junior tournaments around Mecklenburg County’s golf courses.

Black’s ″Project M-E″ is an extension of the junior golf program. It’s a combination of motivation and outreach - a bid to restore values and show kids that the way out of a troubled life isn’t limited to basketball, nor is it dictated by drugs and guns. He’s also trying to change the outlook of kids who might be victims of domestic instability.

″The kid is not so much that bad at that early age. After they reach a certain level, they get bad,″ Black said. ″They don’t know no more than what they see in the home.

″My thing is to take that kid and focus that kid in the right direction, spiritually, mentally and physically,″ he said.

Black grew up on the southwest side of Charlotte next to a golf course and picked up his first club when he was 8. Playing might have come naturally, but it wasn’t easy.

″We used to play the back nine,″ he said. ″The greens superintendent used to shoot at us to keep us off the course.″

In the 1960s, Black was still fighting to play golf, although he lacked the resources to make it go. He left Charlotte with a bus ticket and very little money, but made his way West about the time the PGA Tour was gearing up for its season-opening event, the Los Angeles Open.

A friend loaned him the fee. He says local protests ensued over his bid, but Black played his way in.

If anyone thought he was just someone trying to make waves, an opening- round 67 that tied him for first place might have changed their minds. Black faltered in the next two rounds with scores of 74 and 73.

″It was so much pressure, especially the second round,″ he said. ″I can remember shooting 40-34. The next day I shot 39-34. The last day I can’t really remember that.″

His final-round 71 was good enough for a 10th-place tie and $1,550. That money brought Black back east, following in the footsteps of Charlie Sifford, a black pioneer on the PGA Tour and a fellow Charlottean. Black’s money ran out at the U.S. Open, for which he qualified but failed to make the cut.

With his winnings gone, Black hustled his way through the game before he said he got a startling prediction from then-PGA commissioner Joe Dey.

″He knew the direction of it and he knew there would be no minorities″ playing in the 1990s, Black said. It was quite prophetic.

Calvin Peete’s occasional appearances on the Senior PGA Tour virtually covers the extent of minority representation in professional golf today.

That led Black to research the history of blacks and golf. He found the name of John Shipman, believed to be the first competitive golfer in America.

It also inspired him to take the game into the black community. Although he does go into predominantly black communities, anyone who wants to attend his clinics can do so.

″That’s what I want to do. I want to use it spiritually and physically and mentally,″ he said. ″I want to use it not only in the golfing community, but in the community, period, when it comes to saving a child.″

Black gets the kids to driving ranges, where they can take their best swings. He even teaches them how to make a club, having secured a deal from a manufacturer to get a supply of club heads, shafts and grips.

It has built a measure of pride that has been noted by the Charlotte Police Department, which has joined in Black’s effort.

″First, you try to get them involved and interested in something that’s totally different, that they’re not even used to,″ said police officer Michael Dugan. ″Once they get the fundamentals, and all of a sudden, they hit that one good shot, you just see their eyes open up and that’s all they want to do, hit golf balls.″

Black realizes his clinics are only temporary relief from the stresses and lures of the inner-city neighborhood. Black’s focus is trying to give them the idea that they don’t just have to shoot at a basketball goal. If they work at it hard enough, they can take a shot at the pin.

He’ll take his idea anywhere he’s wanted.

″It can bring dignity. It can bring self-esteem, It can bring the respect of oneself,″ Black said. ″It makes the kid aware of the career opportunity that’s ahead. We’re not looking for the best golfer. We’re using golf as a vehicle, as a way of life, as a therapeutic tool.″

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