Gregory Odom Jr. is making history for Howard at the Wells Fargo Championship

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Gregory Odom Jr. walked briskly up the hill to the hitting area at TPC Potomac at the Avenel Farm practice facility, propped his blue Howard Bison golf bag at his side and pulled out an iron that gleamed in the sunlight.

The senior and best player on the Howard men’s golf team took a few steps, leaned over and teed a ball before lobbing it into the sky on a crystal blue background without a cloud in sight. He smiled as he watched the ball fade into the distance.

“That’s life,” he said.

There is no doubt that Odom is living his best version in recent weeks. The latest milestone in his golf journey will unfold this week, when Odom makes his first appearance on the PGA Tour at the Wells Fargo Championship at TPC Potomac.

Playing as an amateur with a sponsor waiver, Odom is set to tee off Thursday, a little more than two weeks after winning the singles title at the Middle East Athletic Conference tournament and leading the Bison to their first team trophy at Argyle Country Club in Silver Spring.

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Odom, who played golf for two years at the University of Memphis before transferring to Howard, will become the first Bison player to play in a PGA Tour event.

The lure of playing at a historically black university with Howard’s prestige, combined with assurances of strong financial backing for the school’s golf program, thanks to an investment by NBA star Stephen Curry, influenced the decision to Odom to join the Bison. But Howard’s trainer, Sam Puryear, was also involved in the recruiting.

NBA star Stephen Curry, who supports Howard University’s golf program, spoke about Gregory Odom Jr.’s first career start on the PGA Tour. (Video: Courtesy Golden State Warriors)

After seeing Odom’s name on the NCAA transfer portal, Puryear made three promises if he decided to come to the District. The first was a conference championship. The second was a gateway to unique opportunities. The third was fulfilling Odom’s childhood dream of playing professional golf.

With the first box checked last month, the second two fell into place when Wells Fargo officials, citing a commitment to fostering diversity, fairness and inclusion, granted Odom a waiver normally granted to former tournament champions or other professionals, often local, who otherwise failed to qualify.

“We have a long history of supporting HBCUs, and this year we’re using the Wells Fargo Championship to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience for young and diverse golfers,” said Pam Batalis, senior vice president of endorsement and sponsorships at Wells Fargo. brand engagement. “We are proud to help Gregory Odom Jr. make his debut on the PGA Tour.”

The resources in the Odom case have come through the generosity of Curry. The Golden State Warriors star provided a seven-figure donation to Howard, announced in 2019, which restarted the school’s men’s and women’s golf teams after 40 years, and set the stage for Odom’s appearance on the PGA Tour. this week.

“It’s amazing in terms of where the show is trying to get to — the fact that Greg has been on the team, been a true member of the team in terms of representing Howard, the golf program and what we’re trying to do.” do,” Curry said. on Tuesday before Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Memphis Grizzlies. “He has incredible talent. Getting him on the PGA Tour to get some experience, continue to fly the Howard flag, will be amazing. I’m excited for him.”

Curry’s donation will be paid out over six years, giving the university time to endow a fund for the programs to become self-sustaining. A July charity tournament at Pebble Beach that Curry participated in raised $3 million for that donation.

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Curry’s name also caught the attention of sponsors. Calloway became the Bison’s official club and ball supplier. The players wear clothing from Under Armor, the Baltimore-based sportswear giant for which Curry is a spokesman.

“It’s huge to give HBCUs like Howard a platform to grow,” Odom said, “and the resources to be able to compete at a high level.”

Unlike the rest of the field, who was able to practice at TPC Potomac in the days leading up to the tournament, Odom won’t arrive until the first day of the event. He is competing in Philadelphia at the PGA Works Collegiate Championship, the HBCU’s de facto national tournament. Odom enters Wednesday’s final day of the three-round event with a three-shot lead.

Odom won the singles title last year when the tournament was held at TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship. Mental toughness, the most important and well-developed component in Odom’s golf arsenal, Puryear said, kept him in the right frame of mind even as he processed a family tragedy and also overcame a prolonged delay during the final round in which a player a group ahead had to walk back to the tee and hit again.

Instead of letting frustration get the best of him, Odom stayed relaxed and engaged by playing a song by Memphis-born rapper Pooh Shiesty over and over in his head.

More surprising still, Odom’s performance came days after his father died in a hospice at his Memphis home. Kidney failure claimed Greg Sr.’s life at age 67, which his son learned when Puryear informed him during a practice round at TPC Sawgrass.

Odom called his mother and they agreed that his father would have wanted him to stay in Florida and play in the tournament. He shot 4-over-par 220 to win by five strokes.

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Odom had learned the sport as a young boy in Memphis under the tutelage of his father. He played in First Tee events in and around Memphis, where many of his fellow players were black. But golf’s diversity issues became clear to him only after playing in bigger tournaments out of town. As has been the case in golf events for much of his life, Odom will be the only black player on this week’s field of 156, underscoring the continued underrepresentation in a sport whose lily-white tradition is barely lost. has moved, even after the ascent. by Tiger Woods.

The PGA Tour includes just four black players, and research by the diversity group We Are Golf found that just 3 percent of recreational players are black. Pete Bevacqua, former CEO of the PGA of America, has cited diversity as the sport’s most pressing issue.

Odom has sought to pass on his love of the sport to others by mentoring young black golfers in the District and in his hometown in an effort to ensure their experience with the game is as rewarding as his own.

“I just want to be a role model and show them that they can be here,” Odom said. “They don’t really have to change who they are. With resources, experience and mentorship, they can be in the same situation as me.”

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