top of page

Surviving the Rough

Determination and patience help in golf and in life

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on March 23, 2023)

Author: Dr. RL Booker

Editor: Veronica Mobley

Photo of Tiger and Earl Woods Embrace, 1997 Masters
Tiger and Earl Woods Embrace, 1997 Masters, Bob Pearson / AFP-Getty Images file

On April 13, 1997, as a 16-year-old high school student, I was sitting at home watching two Black men embrace in a hug followed by tears, joy, excitement, and love. Tiger Woods had just won his first Master's trophy. As he and his father shared a moment of many emotions, I, too, had a rush of emotions similar to those I might feel when my favorite sports team won a championship or major game. I didn't know it at the time, but seeing someone who looked like me win the top tournament in golf was monumental. Growing up in rural Arkansas in a low-income family of five wasn't the ideal situation for a kid like me to learn how to play golf. Irrespective of the shortcomings that Tiger has displayed, I often wonder what principles his parents instilled within him.

My mother, family, community members, teachers, and mentors are all responsible for teaching me the foundational pillars of patience, temperance, commitment, resilience, and hard work. These pillars are what I consider to be my four cardinal principles plus one (hard work). While I have not always fully lived out every single pillar, there have been many times when new opportunities helped me further strengthen these pillars. One of the most unlikely opportunities was an invitation to play golf.

I was 29 years old the first time I hit a golf ball. My mentor, Dr. Robert Mock Jr., invited me to hit a bucket of balls with him at the now-closed Razorback Park Golf Course in Fayetteville. While I enjoyed the mentor-to-mentee conversation, I was mentally frustrated with how difficult it was to hit this little stationary golf ball. After spending an hour missing almost every attempt to hit the ball, I was intrigued and motivated to learn how to play the game of golf.

After buying a set of used golf clubs and going to the driving range almost every day after work for about 6 months, my motivation was tempered by even more frustration at how difficult this seemingly simple game was. So, I quit golf. It was just too hard.

Photo of me Hitting Golf Balls in 2014
Hitting Golf Balls in 2014

After a month, I found myself back at the driving range, getting golf lessons, watching the swing of other players, and hitting two to three large buckets each trip. I was determined to get better at golf. I finally took the big leap and played my first round with a buddy who was much better than me. Thankfully, he was patient and gave me tips. My final score was an underwhelming 114. As my good friend Christopher O. Terry would say, "Man, I know you are tired after all those swings." Yes, I was tired, but I was also determined to get better. So, over the next two years, I avoided playing full rounds and focused my time and energy on putting, chipping, and hitting golf balls at the driving range.

After watching countless hours of golf tutorial videos on YouTube, I soon realized that no matter how hard I worked at getting better, the only thing that would allow me to actually get better was time, patience, and continuing to play the game. Repetition and commitment needed to be actualized.

While I did the hard work, practiced patience, controlled my anger through temperance, and committed to completing my planned practices even in the bitter cold rain, I must give credit to those who helped me on my journey. I never would have started playing golf if I had not seen Black representation via Tiger Woods and my mentor, Dr. Mock. I would not have stayed motivated if I had not had a group of golfers (Christopher O. Terry, Darius Morris, Toran Menifee, Walter Reynolds, Marshall Carter, Jan Williams, Joe Conley, Darius Hicks, Roderick Toney, Johnny Branch, Sam Graham, Curtis Bolden, and Tommy Wofford) whom I not only got to learn from but also engaged in conversation about important issues we all face in life.

I also want to give a special thanks to Walter Reynolds and Marshall Carter, who combined have a total of 90 years of golf experience. They taught me the rules of golf and exemplified what it means to make adjustments while staying the course in the face of adversity.

Golf has helped hone the values and principles that I hold dear. I also enjoy having a weekend of golf with my friends (as I no longer score 114). Nowadays, I typically score 80 to 88. For me (and I emphasize for me), staying the course in the face of adversity is essential for anything in life. However, it is not the only factor that determines one's value or one's opportunity to succeed. While golf has been a hobby that has helped me, I also understand the longstanding factors that can determine whether little kids who look like me are ever introduced to the game of golf.

Photo of Olajuwon Ajanaku and Earl A. Cooper, Founders of Eastside Golf
Olajuwon Ajanaku and Earl A. Cooper, Founders of Eastside Golf, Photo courtesy of Itsbenniblack.

Olajuwon Ajanaku and Earl A. Cooper, founders of Eastside Golf and members of the 2010 Morehouse College golf team, the team that won the 24th Annual PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship, have an interesting story about their journey into the business of sports apparel as two young Black CEOs. In April, I plan to write about the successes and challenges they have faced, especially when it comes to the game of golf.


Playing Golf with Friends over the Years

Shot 83 in my first golf tournament at Paradise Valley, Fayetteville, AR (July 11, 2015)



Anonymous. (2019). A Warning. New York: Twelve.

71 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page