HBCUs shine at Charlie Sifford Centennial Cup at Quail Hollow

CHARLOTTE – Quail Hollow Club fell silent as Troy Stribling stood over his 3-foot putt on the 15th green on Monday.

Well, except for the construction workers hammering nails into the plywood of the floor of a hospitality area behind the gleaming white clubhouse. Not that a little noise mattered to Stribling, a senior at Florida A&M. He was just focused on the birdie putt that would give him a 4-and-3 victory over Texas Southern’s Owen Walsh – and as it turned out, clinch at least a tie for the Charlie Sifford Centennial Cup.

“This was something special,” Stribling says. “This is probably the best golf tournament I’ve ever been a part of … especially, to share with this group of guys for my last year.”

The exhibition, which featured six of the top Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) programs in the country, was conceived by the organizers of The Presidents Cup, which will take center stage at Quail Hollow in three weeks. Hence, the last-minute preparations for the biennial team competition to be held Sept. 22-25.

The Charlie Sifford Centennial Cup was part of a year-long celebration of what would have been the World Golf Hall of Famer’s 100th birthday on June 2. The Charlotte native, who was the first African American to earn his PGA TOUR card, died in 2015.

“I knew he was a trailblazer, and I didn’t know every obstacle he went through to get to where he was,” Stribling says. “He went through a lot of hardships. … And he’s not really talked about like the Muhammad Alis or Malcolm X or MLK, and he should be.

“So, he went through a lot to help us get to where we are and we’re just here to honor him.”

The six schools were separated into two teams for Monday’s competition – FAMU, Alabama State and Livingstone College represented Charles Sifford Jr. while Howard, Texas Southern and the host Johnson C. Smith played for James Black, another Charlotte native and a mainstay of the United Golf Association during the days of segregation.

The final score was 12-6, in favor of the team captained by Sifford Jr. But the chance to play a major championship-caliber course – Quail Hollow has hosted the 2017 PGA Championship, 18 Wells Fargo Championships and 11 Kemper Opens on TOUR – made it a win-win for the student-athletes, many of whom aspire to play professionally.

“It’s just preparing for my future,” says Howard’s Greg Odom Jr., who won the MEAC title and played in the Wells Fargo Championship on a sponsor’s exemption earlier this year.

“And for me – if you see it, you can be it. So, I’m just here just trying to play great golf and continue my legacy.”

The massive grandstands and hospitality venue may have been empty on Monday but Stribling, who like Odom plans to turn pro after graduation, was able to get a sense of what the excitement might be like in late September. J.C. Smith coach William Watkins says the “small city” being built for 40,000 can make the game feel intimidating.

“Even though there’s no spectators in the stands, I feel a little nervous,” he says. “I’m like, wow, just imagine all the eyeballs on you.”

The teams played the same reconfigured routing that will be used in the Presidents Cup. Quail Hollow’s famous Green Mile, holes 16-18, will be played as holes 13-15 for the Presidents Cup in order to make sure those holes factor into the matches. In fact, while Monday’s morning Four-ball matches were taking place, several members of the International Team and Captain Trevor Immelman made a stealth reconnaissance appearance at the course.

“I haven’t really played a course like this with this kind of atmosphere,” Stribling says. “Having the Presidents Cup be here in a couple weeks to (watch) on TV and say, ‘I played those holes’ is something special. I can’t wait to tell my friends and my family about it.”

Sifford Jr., who hit the competition’s opening tee shot, felt his father would have approved.

“He would be super happy about it,” Sifford Jr. says. “There are two things that he always wanted. He just wanted to be able to play the game of golf and have the kids of all ages to be able to have a chance, an equal chance, to play the game, be exposed to it and have an opportunity to play it because he really, he fell in love with the game when he was 10 years old.

“So, he would’ve been jumping off the wall to see something like this.”