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Women’s History Month Interview Series: Former LPGA Golfer Renee Powell

Renee Powell (born May 4, 1946) is an American professional golfer who played on the U.S.-based LPGA Tour and is currently head professional at her family’s Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, Ohio.

She began playing golf at age three. Her father, Bill Powell, is the only African-American to design, build, own and operate a golf course in the United States. She entered her first amateur tournament at age 12 and won her division.

Powell would on go to attend attend Ohio University and Ohio State University, serving as captain of the women’s golf team at each institution.

Powell was the second African-American woman ever to play on the LPGA Tour, following in the footsteps of the legendary Althea Gibson, who was the first African-American LPGA Tour member, joining in 1963.

Powell joined the LPGA Tour in 1967, and played on Tour from 1967–1980.

It was not until 1995 that another African-American, LaRee Sugg, played on the tour.

Powell competed in more than 250 professional golf tournaments and won the Kelly Springfield Open in Brisbane, Australia.

 

Renee Powell (middle)

Renee Powell (middle)

 

Bob Whitney: Please describe your years as a youth and how you first developed a passion for golf.
Were you a good all around athlete?

Renee Powell: Having spent my entire life as a youth growing up surrounded by the golf course – golf was a very natural and normal sport for me to gravitate to, I started playing at age 3.

In elementary and high school I played basketball, volleyball, ran track and took up archery in high school. Volleyball I absolutely loved and I was good at all the sports. Sports were an awfully lot different for girls then than they are now.

 

BW: Your dad was quite a man and a pioneer like yourself in his own right. Describe his impact on you as a golfer and as a person..

RP: My dad and mom both were much more of a pioneer than I was. Can you imagine a black man in 1946 having just returned home from WWII and from a segregated army and then deciding to build a golf course, something no one has done since then, regardless of color. Building the first 9 holes mostly by hand. My dad’s impact on me as a golfer was huge. He taught me the game, my only teacher ever and took me to junior tournaments, keeping a watchful eye on my progress. As a person I learned a lot about confidence from my dad and never giving up regardless of circumstances. Focusing on the game and not on others around who might not be your friends or friendly to me.

 

BW: You are only about 5-foot very small by today’s standards. What was the very best part(s) of your game?

RP: Even though I was not the tallest, but somewhere around 5’4″ I was always strong and could drive the ball well. I loved my 2 and 3 irons too.

 

BW: You played college golf back then: Can you compare and contrast yourself with today’s young players?

RP: I really do not think you can compare college golf for girls in the 1960’s to college golf 50 plus years later. It was hard to find local tournaments for girls to play in my days, there were no scholarships for girls then. Title 9 really made the difference for young girls in sports. Today girls play high school golf and are able to get their college completely paid for. Coaches recruit from all over the world which was unheard of in my college days. Girls come here to the States to play some competition in college and many then head straight to the tour after sharpening their games.

 

Renee Powell

Renee Powell

BW: You followed Althea Gibson on tour What challenges, struggles, obstacles did that pose for you?

RP: Thank goodness for me that Althea preceded me. Although as a world class athlete she was known better than any one on Tour she because of her color was treated worse than anyone else. Not from the players on Tour – but from tournament sites and golf courses etc. By the time I went on Tour 3 years later, our Tournament Director Lenny Wirtz was dealing with places they did not want to accept a person of color on their course or in their clubhouse. Of course there were still numerous challenges for me because we are talking about the 60’s, but the blow was a little softer.

 

BW: You were on tour during the Civil Rights movement. What was that like for you and what did you learn from it?

RP: From the Civil Rights movement what I learned was mans inhumanity to man .We saw those in authority turning fire hoses and vicious  dogs on their fellow citizens – it was not in some far off country or long ago in history, but at a time when I was playing golf. I ran into incidents in the South and was a bit fearful but also knew that others had faced more in an attempt to make life better for me.

 

BW: Many of your fellow pros supported you during that time, Can you recall a memorable moment and what did it tell you about other people?

RP: The LPGA Tour in those days was more like a big extended family. Once when the security outside the locker room was refusing to allow me to enter, Donna Caponi just happened to be walking into the locker room and saw the problem I was having. She told the guard that I too was a player. Now I showed the same credentials to enter as Donna, but he instead looked only at my face and would not allow me inside. This was one of my competitors and peers who had to stand up for me, when it should never have been necessary – pure racism on his part. And there were other incidents, but that was just one . It was just disgraceful.

 

BW: What advice do you have for young women that would like to follow in your footsteps today?

RP: My advice to young women would be to follow your dreams, work hard and believe in yourself.

 

BW: What can be done to continue to improve the women’s game of golf?

RP: I think the women’s  game has improved if you look at the LPGA. In what sport have you seen a 17 year old as the number 1 player in the world. If we saw the LPGA more on television viewers would see how good they are.

 

BW: March is Women’s History Month. What type of legacy do you hope to leave, not only in your career, but as a woman?

RP: How amazing, people never asked me about legacy until more recent years and now it seems to be one of the questions all media ask.

I would like my legacy to be one of following in the footsteps of my parents of making the world a better one through creating opportunities by using my talents in the area of golf to enhance the spirit of individuals in a positive manner.

 

BW: Favorite sports movie?

RP: My favorite sports movie is the Wilma Rudolph Story. Wilma was a dear friend.! I loved how her family worked together helping her to learn to walk and then she ran and then she became the great Olympic Champion. The courage of Wilma makes her movie my favorite.

 

BW: If you could have dinner with three people, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

RP: That is such a tough question because I would love to have dinner with many, many more than 3 people.

Babe Zaharias – As a woman pioneer athlete, I would like to know what made her so great, how she thought.

Dr. Martin Luther King – My parents took us as kids to hear him speak when he was in Canton, Ohio in 1963. I wonder what he would think of where we are as a people today. Did he think his sacrifice would have moved the needle more forward.

Queen Elizabeth – I was invited to Buckingham Palace for tea back in the late 70’s. Had already flown back to the US from London and decided not to fly back. She is still the Queen so maybe there will be another opportunity!

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Bob Whitney

Bob is a college basketball columnist here at DoubleGSports.com. He also covers Yale football and the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA.
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