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After Further Review: Haskins At-Large:The Longest Drive: Black Golfer Scott Yancy is Still Looking for His Big Break
Richmond, VA – If someone had told Scott Yancy that he would be making his debut as an exempt player on the 2005 Hooters Tour, he may have laughed them off. A 23 year-old African American cell phone salesman and part-time professional golfer, this Glen Carbon, IL native made it to the finals of The Golf Channel’s popular reality show, “The Big Break II” televised in the last part of 2004. Being a Big Break finalist earned him an exemption on to the Hooters Tour – a professional circuit below the PGA Tour but which has produced a number of top-notch professionals – for 2005. “My goal on the Hooters Tour is to make all of the cuts and finish in the Top 20 on the money list. I plan to [play on tour] for a year.” Since the Big Break ended, he has not had a lot of time to play competitively. “The Hooters Tour is my first real playing experience since the show.”
Even with his status as a pro, Yancy is a relative newcomer to the game of golf. He says that his junior year of high school was the “first time I touched a golf club.” Still, he tried out for his school’s golf team that year, a squad that he claims is among the best high school squads in America.” He said that each year, there were “125 to 150 kids trying to make the cut for 6 or 7 spots [on the team].” He earned his way onto the team that year and played well.
Despite not winning any tournament, he played well enough to earn a scholarship offer from Kentucky State University, a Division II program. He says that his raw athletic ability and high school pedigree impressed the KSU coaches. At KSU, his lack of experience caught up with him to a degree. He says that he really felt “behind the 8 ball. I was one level above where I felt that I should be.” He stayed at KSU for a year, and following the Spring playing season of his freshman year, he transferred to Anderson University, a Division III school in Indiana. He felt more comfortable playing closer to home and his family, and the lower level of competition was easier for him to handle. He played for three more years, and in that time, was a member of teams that won conference championships.
His playing days at Anderson ended before he finished his degree requirements. After being offered an opportunity to play on the Gateway Tour, a pro circuit in the Southwestern US, he left Anderson one semester shy of graduating. He also got a chance to play in Canadian Tour and in Nationwide Tour events. Playing professionally for the first time, he met with limited success. To top it off, his financial sponsors went bankrupt, and he was “stranded. I had to call my folks to come and get me.” Stung from this experience, he went back to Anderson and enrolled in classes. He graduated in May 2004 with a degree in business administration.
He saw information about The Golf Channel’s initial season of the Big Break reality show during his last semester in college. His confidence was down after his aborted attempt as a pro. He sat in his apartment and even downloaded the application but “didn’t do anything.” The day before the application deadline, he mailed it in but was not hopeful. “I knew that I didn’t have the money to go to a tryout” he says.
To his surprise, The Golf Channel called him about going to tryouts being held in Indiana for a second season of the Big Break. He drove to the audition, and says that “everything just kind of clicked” for him. “They’d call shots, and I’d hit them. I did personal interviews in front of the camera and I felt comfortable. I had a feeling that I’d be on the show before the tryout was done.” When the Golf Channel cut the top 25 contestants down to 10, his intuition paid off. He was a finalist.
Yancy says that the “[Big Break II] experience was outstanding. I had one major goal – to have as much fun as possible.” He says that he didn’t expect to win because “I knew I wasn’t playing well. I didn’t want to frustrate myself.” Though he was eliminated in the early rounds of the show, he says that the experience of being on the Big Break “will help me continue to grow. I need time to mature.”
Speaking about his fellow competitors, Yancy says that “All the guys got along well, with the exception of Don because he was so intense. But, after the show, we got to know him and he was really nice.” In particular, he says that fellow African American contestant Jay McNair “is like a brother to me.” Playing was not easy for him, though. “There is no feeling like standing over a shot with 200 people and cameras flashing. It’s crazy pressure. I had no other time in my life with that kind of pressure.” He says that “there were times when I couldn’t get my right hand on the golf club.” However, he feels that this was ultimately beneficial to his long-term career. He says that now, “every tournament seems like a joke. The nervousness is gone.”
After the show Yancy returned to Glen Carbon to work for a Nextel distributor. They have become his primary sponsor, allowing him to work 16-20 hours per week while focusing on improving his golf game. “My primary goal is to find out how good I am. I’ve shot 62 in a tournament, 64, 65. I can play. The key is to unlock what it is to keep me playing well.”
Scott’s natural athletic ability has never been in question, but his relatively limited experience with big-time competition has been a source of intrigue and criticism from others. He says that people ask him “how have I moved up without winning tournaments.” He even acknowledges that his path to professional golf is anything but typical. Still he says that he intends to “keep working hard, keep believing in myself, and…pull it [a pro career] off.”
Yancy realizes that he needs to play more if he wants a legitimate shot at a full-time pro career. “I need to get more years under my belt. I just want a chance to prove that I can or can’t do this. My ultimate goal is to play on the PGA Tour…I was asked where I saw myself in 5 years. I said ‘as a rookie with full-exempt status on the PGA’”
Yancy looks forward to the upcoming tournament schedule, but money remains an obstacle for him. He estimates that a full season schedule will cost him at least $18,000 in entry fees plus travel expenses. He plans to save money in a number of ways including “sharing a room at the Super 8 with guys.” He is trying to develop a plan so that he can play in as many events as possible. “I’m working to put together some money and possibly play in 2 events soon. I have a group that wants to send me to [the PGA’s Qualifying School]. If I can just get a little bit of help to get in tournaments, I’ll play as long as I can.” Still, he is feeling the stress of being strapped for cash. “It sucks to get a full exemption but not be able to play” he admits.
Lately, Yancy has taken time to reflect on what it means to be one of the few African American golfers in the pro ranks. Despite making inroads into the industry, he notes that “Only 5 or 6 [Blacks] are on the PGA, Nationwide or Hooters Tours. I know all of the brothers who have a tour card.” He feels that Black golf pros like him have to serve as role models for aspiring youngsters coming into the game. “It is our responsibility to continue to play to bring more brothers into the field…Some guys are coming up but don’t have cards. There are not even 10 in the whole nation playing on a tour.”
Citing Lee Elder and newly-elected World Golf Hall of Fame member Charlie Sifford as his role models, Yancy wants to see more Blacks playing the game at all level, especially professionally. “Tiger brought a lot of folks to the game to watch. It’s our responsibility to keep going because there are so few of us” he says.
Yancy feels that the key to success as this stage in his career is attracting financial backing from individual and corporate sponsors. Professional golfers rely on backers to cover their travel and playing expenses in exchange for a percentage of their tournament earnings. Although his employer is supporting him in part, he is looking for another group to step up and invest in him. He says that, “it’s strange that [Black professional golfers] can’t get African American business owners as sponsors. We really, really need help. This is for the race as a whole. It’s what keeps me motivated.” To him, African American businesses and wealthy individuals are a natural source of financial backing for Black golf pros. However, he has not quite figured out a way to tap into this kind of support.
Despite the obstacles in his way, Yancy feels destined to make it as a pro golfer. Giving credit to divine intervention, he says, “I’m a religious guy. [Pro golf] is what I’m called to do. There’s a reason that doors keep opening. It’s what I’m destined to do.” Determined to live out his dream on the links, he laughs and says “I’ll stop when they cut my water off. That’s when I’ll have to give it up.”