Renee Powell – Legend Going Strong

Renee Powell Captaining Junior Solheim with Annika

After all these years of paying attention to golf, I’m surprised at all that I don’t know. I would prefer to think that there’s just so much to notice in the game, rather than a case of me just being slow. In the case of Renee Powell, I win the point. On the other hand, I can’t gloat. I really didn’t know for sure that there was a junior version of the Solheim Cup, one of my favorite parts of the golf year.

Not that I’m surprised. There’s a junior version of pretty much everything in professional golf now, thanks to folks like Annika Sorenstam, who does a great deal of heavy lifting for young people entering the game. Annika, of course, is a legend and a half, but on the other side is American Renee Powell, who holds a place in history and would walk on water to help a kid with a golf club, or even without one.

Powell grew up in my era, but the LPGA was a little way off of its peak public profile then. I’ll start with today. Powell is the head pro at a course in Ohio called Clearview. It was built by her father William “Bill” Hall, as a place where golf was available to everyone. The course site describes Renee as one of the most “resilient and persevering” athletes of our day.

Playing competitive golf in Powell’s teen years was not always so easy for an African American, man or woman. Still, she managed to win 30 events in those years after getting in the ‘swing’ as a small child. In the year of 1967, in her early 20s, Powell became only the second woman to enter the LPGA Tour, still a young enterprise. From there, she played in 250 events and won the Kelly Springfield in Brisbane, Australia.

A career of such length was not to end the legend for Renee Powell.  Following her playing days, she became an International Goodwill Ambassador, a title that says it all about everything that was to come later. In that capacity, she traveled for 25 golf clinics. At Clearview, she launched H.O.P.E. which poignantly spells out Helping Our Patriots Everywhere. Countless awards followed. In 2015, she became only one of two Americans to be named Honorary Members of St. Andrews in Scotland. Later, she became the third American to receive an honorary doctorate at the University of St. Andrews after its 600-year anniversary. At home, she was named by the PGA as America’s First Lady of Golf, and was presented with  the LPGA Rolex Love of the Game Award.  And, there is so much more.

Golf fans might have seen Powell appear as a commentator for CBS and ABC tournaments. Behind the scenes, she sits on the Board of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Mercy Medical Center, and several other entities. Most moving of all, her attention to young boys and girls, whether or not they ever become professional golfers, has been wide open, loving, and colorless, something we need so much from every community leader in the world.

I grew up in an unofficially segregated town on unofficially segregated golf courses. They didn’t have to say it out loud, but property and employment conditions maintained the status quo. How my young golfing community could have used a person like Renee Powell to preemptively break both barriers and myths before they have a chance to get started.

This year, I will await both the Solheim and the Solheim Junior, grateful that young stars-to-be will either be under the guidance of Annika Sorenstam on that side of the pond, or Renee Powell on this side. Win or lose, they will be associations never to be forgotten.

 

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