FLINT, MI - Former Jackson State golfer Shasta Averyhardt got an early Christmas gift – and a place in history – earlier this month when she qualified for the LPGA Tour.
Averyhardt became the first African-American woman to qualify for the Tour through qualifying school when she finished in a tie for 22nd place in Qualifying School She will be the fourth African-American woman in the 60-year history of the LPGA.
LaRee Sugg, Renee Powell and Althea Gibson previously held Tour cards. Averyhardt, 24, is the only African-American who currently holds a Tour card, albeit on a provisional basis.
Averyhardt’s tie for 22nd place earned her status in priority list category 16, given to players who finish between 21st and 30th in qualifying school. Golfers in her category are exempt into the Monday qualifying tournaments for Tour events and could land a spot in a handful of LPGA tournaments.
“It has finally sunk in,” says Averyhardt. “I can’t say it’s a relief. It’s an accomplishment; it’s something I dreamed about. Now I’m finally able to complete a milestone.”
Averyhardt was positioned to finish in the fully exempt top 20 after shooting a fourth-round 67, which put her in a tie for eighth place. However, she struggled on the final round and shot a 79, giving her a 4-over par 364 for the five-day event. She would have tied for 20th, and gained full exemption with a score of 362.
“Things didn’t go my way that round,” Averyhardt says. “I was a little fatigued. It’s kind of lesson learned. I learned to never give up, to keep fighting and find that extra something to keep going.”
Averyhardt made five bogeys and one double bogey on the final round; bogeyed three of the four par 5s and also doubled the par-3 third. Averyhardt wasn’t the only golfer who had a difficult time on the final round. Only five of the 73 players in the field broke par.
Despite faltering in the final round, Averyhardt’s showing is giant step forward. She is the first African-American to hold a Tour card since Sugg in 2001.
“I’m really am proud of her,” says Jackson State golf coach Eddie Payton, the former NFL running back and kick return specialist. “There never was a a doubt in my mind that she had the talent and drive to be successful.”
Averyhardt spent Christmas with her family in Flint, Michigan, relaxing and plotting her next steps. She will continue competing on the Futures Tour in addition playing in qualifying rounds for an undetermined number of LPGA events.
Averyhardt was a four-time All-American at Jackson State and a four-time SWAC champion at Jackson State. She also won the 2004 Michigan Powerbilt Junior Tour Championship, the 2005 Golf Association of Michigan Women’s Championship and the 2008 Michigan Women’s State Amateur Stroke Play Championship. Averyhardt won the 2009 Suncoast Event before turning pro earlier this year and competing on the Duramed Futures Tour.
“When you get athletes like that, you hope you don’t mess them up,” says Payton, who first Averyhardt play when she was an 10th-grader and mistook her for a senior because her game was so advanced. “I knew she had it. I knew if I could get her in our program, she would do great things for the program and herself and be role model for the next generation of females.”
Payton predicts that Averyhardt, will be a stellar performer on the LPGA Tour in the not too distant future.
“It’s a different game than what she’s used to,” he says. “She will be playing with the best of best, players who have been playing for a living for years. She will have to adjust her competitive level to meet the competitive level of those who view it as a business. Biggest obstacle is upping her intensity. It has been a dream for her. Now she has to realize this is a job; winning is the objective. She has to take the approach that ‘even if I don’t win I have to approach it as this is what I do to make a living.’ I predict that she will be a millionaire in three years. She should put herself in position to win by next year. In year three, she should be a fixture on the leader board. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened before then.”
Averyhardt’s first challenge is to find a sponsor. She wasn’t successful in her efforts when she was playing on the Futures Tour because she didn’t have a Tour card. The combination of having her Tour card and being the only African-American on the Tour should help her in her quest to secure a sponsor.
“Hopefully it will be an advantage now that I have my card,” Averyhardt said. “It could be a selling point - absolutely. It could be a great opportunity. I hope companies can see that it would work to their advantage. I’m not going to shy away from it; I’m going to celebrate it and embrace it.”
Payton says Averyhardt, who is a statuesque 6-foot-1 and has a degree in accounting, has the intangibles that make her an ideal product endorser.
“She is so intelligent, well-spoken and approachable,” he says. “The endorsement money should equal or exceed what she makes playing.”
Averyhardt became interested in golf at age 10. She picked the game up from her father, who is an avid golfer. She enjoyed spending time with him, and golf provided an opportunity to do that. Eventually, she became fascinated by the game.
Now she has put herself in position to become the first African-American ever to win an LPGA event. She understands that when she sets foot on a golf course, that she is not playing just for herself. However, she says she can’t get caught in the historical aspect of her being on the Tour and the accompanying pressure of feeling that she is carrying the banner for all African-American female golfers.
“It could be a pressure,” she says. “I see it; I know it; I’m aware of it. I’m proud of it, but I still got to go out and play like everybody else.”