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golf-447When it comes to women’s golf, HBCUs have reason for celebration as former Jackson State star Shasta Averyhardt will be in the field for the Women’s U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club when play starts July 8.

Averyhardt, who turned pro in 2009, will be the only African-American in the field and one of only a handful to compete in the prestigious tournament.

But HBCUs have reason for sadness about women’s golf as well. Even though the number of black girls who play golf is increasing, a growing number of HBCUs are discontinuing women’s programs as they cut costs in their athletic departments.

It’s a paradoxical dilemma that places Averyhardt in the position of carrying the hopes and dreams of countless female African-American golfers as she competes in her first major tournament.

“I am really excited about the opportunity,” said Averyhardt, a four-time SWAC champion. “This is one of my bigger goals. It shows people there are good players at HBCUs. It’s very exciting for other black women golfers. Younger girls see that if I can do it, they can do it too.”

However, Averyhardt says she not approaching the tournament as though she has to perform well to validate all black female golfers or those who aspire to play the game.

“If you look at it from the outside, I am playing for more than myself,” she says. “I can’t look at it from the outside. I have to focus on playing.”

Averyhardt’s number-one goal is to qualify for the LPGA Tour. She has played on the DURAMED Futures Tour, known as “The Road to the LPGA” because of its mission to develop young women golfers for the major circuit, since January.

She qualified for the Futures Tour after going through Qualifying School last fall in her first attempt to earn an LPGA Tour card. She finished in the top 30 in sectional qualifying, which earned her a spot in the finals. However, she failed to finish in the top 40 at the finals, which she needed to do to earn a Tour card.

“I thought I was going to do it,” she says. “I realized I still need to learn to do more things – just learn to play, learn to win. You’re always learning every round you play. It keeps building. One day, everything will just click. I feel it will really soon. It’s a grueling process. It’s not easy. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.”

Averyhardt can also earn a Tour card by finishing among the top money winners on the

Futures Tour.

“I’ve had bumps in the road trying to get to the low scores, to put myself in the right position to win tournaments,” she says. “But, I feel like I’m moving in a positive direction.”

Jackson State golf coach Eddie Payton, the former NFL kick returner and running back, is confident Averyhardt has the talent to become a productive player on the major circuit.

“She is perhaps the most physically complete player from a black college,” Payton says. “She has everything needed to make a good living – a good swing rhythm and balance, and she hits it far as anybody. Her short game is on par with all those making a living. The only thing she lacks is experience. If she stays the course, she will do some great things.”

Averyhardt has played in seven Futures events this year and has earned $2,389, which places her 117th on the money list. She ranks 92nd on the tour with an average score of 74.12. Her best finish was tie for 23rd at the Historic Brownsville Open in Rancho Viejo, Texas, in April.

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