A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Black Golfer Jay McNair Balances Work and Golf After “The Big Break II”
On the Green:
Richmond, VA – Jay McNair was introduced to golf by his grandfather when he was just ten years old. Since then, this 30 year-old DC native has developed a healthy obsession for the game. When not working at his day job as a school administrator in Brandon, Florida, he can be found teeing it up at Rogers Park Golf Course. A one-time professional golfer, he admits to not having many other interests “outside of golf. With me, it’s working and then golf. Everything I do revolves around it. Even when I read, I’m reading golf books and magazines.”
After playing for three years on Florida A&M’s Division I golf squad, he graduated in 1998 and took a job as school teacher. On the side, he worked as an assistant professional at a local course and played in regional tournaments throughout Florida. Occasionally, he played in regional tournaments. “I was what you’d call a check casher,” he said, “I shot low enough to win money.”
Mostly playing in local tournaments and in private competitions for cash, McNair says that he would “work from 6am to 2pm [at his school post] and then try to find a game and make $50-60. It was about just loving to play. I didn’t do a lot of practice. I’d just tee it up and play for whatever.” An admittedly competitive person, he says that he would “try to beat [opponents] and take [their] money because I didn’t make any money as an assistant pro. I was playing people I knew I could beat. That was my attitude.”
McNair’s interest in the game helped him earn a spot as a finalist on the fall and winter season. The Golf Channel’s hit reality show, “The Big Break II.” Ironically, it was his girlfriend, who watched the first season of the show, who encouraged him to apply. She even helped him fill out the proper applications and do the necessary follow-up. He says, “She did all the work.” In February 2004, he got a call from The Golf Channel inviting him to Miami for an audition.
McNair had to rely on his golf skills before he set foot at the audition. Since he was low on cash, he says that he hit the golf course to make money for the trip. “I went out to a weekend skins game and put my last $20 up and made a few side bets. I won $400, picked up my girlfriend, and went straight to Miami,” he laughs. “We had a good time, stayed in a nice hotel, and went to Doral for the audition.”
The Golf Channel selected 9 golfers through the auditions, and the tenth selection – which was McNair – was picked by the viewers. As a result, he got the nickname “Viewer’s Choice.” Unfortunately for him, his time was short-lived as he was the second contestant eliminated. Although he only spent two days at the competition site in Las Vegas, McNair jokes, “It was hard not to enjoy the 48 hours I was there. The treatment was first class.”
A few months after his stint on the show, McNair was promoted from a classroom teacher to an administrative position. The added responsibility means that he has less time to spend on the course. He says, “I’m a weekend golfer now [mostly] playing on Saturdays and Sundays.”
Though he was only on the show briefly, as a Big Break II finalist, he was awarded an exemption on to the 2005 Hooters Tour, allowing him to enter events without having to qualify. So far, because of the time commitments with his job, McNair has not entered any events he says that he does not have time to focus on improving his game.
Not wanting to incur the expenses of playing, he now says, “I have to reassess how dedicated I am to [professional golf]. I got to figure out a way to still get my golf in. It’s tough, but such is life.” He has no regrets about advancing his teaching career at the expense of his golf career, and is reconsidering his plans. “I will never be the guy to sit here and tell you I want to be on the PGA tour. My goal is to play professionally every single day. I don’t care what tour. I just want the opportunity to do it. My goals are short and sweet. If I can’t see it in a year or 2, I don’t look at it. I don’t have 10 year goals.”
Despite not being able to play pro golf in the near term, McNair believes that the world of professional golf is looking up for African Americans seeking pro careers. “It’s not so much about Tiger turning it around, but the golfing community respects us as players. If we get opportunity, it’s going to happen soon. There are a lot of good black players around. The old days of this being a white sport are over.”
He sees other black golf pros as being optimistic about their futures. “The guys that I know, they’re not using the black golfer thing as a crutch any more. Investors [who provide financial backing to players] will give anyone a chance if you’re good.” Despite being at the crossroads of his golf career, McNair is certain that if he has the opportunity to play in the pro ranks, he will do well. He says, “If I could do it full-time, I’d raise some hell and cash some checks.” In the meantime, he will keep taking it one hole at a time.