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The Abe Sisters

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When Tezira Abe—the first Black woman to play golf for the University of Texas—saw a scorecard nailed with a tee into the fairway at her school’s course, she walked over to pick it up. Then she saw what the white teenager playing in the group ahead of her had written on it: “N—–.” After graduating in 2016 and becoming an editor of the Michigan Law Review, she published an article with a footnote thanking her parents for encouraging her to play golf.

Tezira’s younger sister, Lakareber, was the only Black woman on her golf team at Alabama; when classmates learned that she was a student-athlete, they guessed that she played basketball, or perhaps ran track. Today, Lakareber is in her second season on the Symetra Tour, where she’s made three of four cuts this season, including a T-3 at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic.

Being a Black person, and especially a Black woman, in golf is complicated. But, as they both say, the first step to improving things is relatively easy: Educate yourself. And the best way to start is by listening.

When was the first time you can remember experiencing racism in golf?

LA: I think mine was pretty late. During my senior year of college, a coach was making racist jokes during a tournament. In my group, we just happened to have two Black players. That was the first time I experienced direct, out-in-the-open racism in golf.

TA: I’m going to challenge you on that, because you must not remember this—which I think speaks to a lot of the suppression that we have to do to survive in this environment—but when we played at the Wilderness [a club near their native Houston, Texas], do you not remember that guy who walked up on the green when we were playing and started calling us the N-word? I think I accidentally hit into him.

LA: I don’t remember.

TA: I think I was 13 or 14 at the time. I think a lot about microaggressions, though. My teammates and I would wear the same thing, the exact same outfits, and my outfit is the one that’s inappropriate. There’s some social science about how Black individuals, even in the workplace, ignore microaggressions—because if every microaggression upsets you, then you can’t be productive. It’s this thing that you do to protect yourself.

How would you describe your relationship with golf?

LA: It’s one of the best things I’ve ever been given the opportunity to do. I enjoy practicing; I enjoy competing. I am thankful for all the experiences I’ve had because of it. Growing up, having an older sister to compete with and to get better with, and just to have that connection, has been fun. But then there’s just little things every now and then that make it maybe a little bit more difficult to maneuver and make it not less enjoyable, but harder. Just harder to get through day by day, sometimes.

TA: I don’t play much golf anymore, but I think my relationship with golf is very similar to hers. I don’t really see myself as having a role in the golf community anymore because I don’t compete and play as much as I used to. I also don’t see myself as able to work within the golf community anymore because I felt, for a long time, like I quieted myself on issues that I think are very important. At least right now, I don’t see a space for advocating the way that I want to in the golf community. I also have a complicated relationship with golf because I do recognize that playing college golf gave me the opportunity to go to a top law school. It gives me a lot of credibility, like at the law firm that I clerked at, because partners love that stuff. It’s a great privilege, but there’s also a weird distance for me.

Lakareber, what is it like being a Black woman in professional golf?

LA: It’s weird. Obviously, we don’t have a lot of representation. If I get to a golf course before everything is set up, there’s always this weird thing like, “Can I go in? Am I going to be weird about it?” When I graduated, I was really worried when we’d go to smaller towns where you don’t really know where you’re going or where you’re driving through, and as a Black woman, I was just very nervous. I’m still pretty nervous about where I stay. I just never want to be in a position where I feel uncomfortable for the week.

Lakareber Abe. Photo: University of Alabama Athletics

Did you feel any kind of burden being the only Black woman in a college program? 

LA: I would say most, if not almost all, Black women who go through any program now, they’ll probably be the first. But it was never a burden to me. When it came up, [Alabama coach Mic Potter] always said, “I understand that, but I recruited her because she was a good player and because I wanted her on the team.” He was always very adamant about that, so I never felt any pressure. 

TA: I’m not sure that I felt a burden. I felt more burden being a Black woman law student than as a golfer. People make more judgments about law students, like whether professors want to mentor them or whether law firms want to hire Black students. In that space, I felt more of a burden. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t let people coming behind me down. As a golfer, I didn’t feel that—one, because there just aren’t very many Black golfers out there, and two, golf coaches are very competitive, and they want to win. They’re going to recruit people who shoot the lowest scores, for the most part. But I will say that my experience at UT was very strange as a Black golfer, because whenever I met other student-athletes, they would ask, “What team are you on?” I’d say golf, and they’d be like, “What?” It was weird.

LA: I did that so many times. It’s so funny. I’m only, like, 5-foot-4, and people would ask, “Oh, so you play basketball here?” I’m like, “Do I look at all like I could play basketball?” Then everyone would guess track. I thought, “Alright, though I take that as a compliment that you think that I look like somebody who runs track, I don’t look like anyone who could run track.”

Let’s talk about your career paths since finishing college golf. Tezira, what led you to leave golf behind and go to law school? And Lakareber, what led you to want to turn pro?

LA: I think everyone when they’re growing up thinks that they want to play professionally, but I always enjoyed the grind of getting better, and I really enjoy competing. I don’t think that it hit me what it was going to mean to travel all around the country by myself and go to these small towns until a month before I actually did it. From that point, I think I was naïve about the golf space that I was going to be entering. But I always love competing, and I want to be the best in the world.

TA: I had always entertained the idea of playing golf for a little bit after college, but I was never that motivated. I knew that I wanted a nine-to-five type of career afterwards, and I knew that I wanted it to be in the legal field. My senior year of college, I didn’t really play that great, and I also got injured. There was a long conversation with my parents. They were super encouraging, and they were like, “Get the surgery. You should do it.” But that didn’t make sense to me [to keep playing]. So I was like, “OK, I’m just going to go to law school.” I took a year off and then I started at Michigan in 2017.

Tezira Abe. Photo: University of Texas Athletics

Tezira, you said earlier that you feel like there’s not a place for you in golf right now. What would golf without racism look like to the two of you?

LA: I had this conversation with my dad recently. Even if there’s a public course there, you still have to be able to afford golf balls, which can be $5 to $10 a bucket, but that adds up. And playing a round of golf, even if it’s $20, how many parents can afford for their kid to play three rounds a week? Then you have to buy clubs. And then, let’s be honest, unless you have a parent who’s played golf for a long time, at some point you’re going to need instruction. You’re going to need all these things. Then you have to pay to go play a tournament. Golf is just not accessible at all. At its core, that’s where it has to start: It has to be more affordable, more accessible and more open to having different people at the courses.

TA: My inclination is that we should get rid of the country club model. I agree golf should just be way more accessible. I know for a fact that there are still some country clubs that don’t allow women, and that’s a problem. I think that’s one thing. I think what the First Tee does is really great, because it gives people like us access to a game that we would not have had access to any other way, but there are just so many other barriers to the golf course.

LA: Even something as small as attire. When we grew up playing, you had to be dressed in a collared shirt on the golf course all the time. But in college, unless I was going to the golf course, not one time did I really wear golf clothes to practice. Anybody should be able to practice in anything appropriate.

TA: Golf has always been this thing that was meant to keep people out. The culture around golf is about elitism, basically. At the firm where I worked last summer, one of the partners was like, “Well, you have to be invited to this club. I’ll invite you and we can make sure you get a junior membership.” I was like, “I can’t believe this. I play golf at the University of Texas!” [Laughs.]

This is a question that, even before I ask it, I know is oversimplified. I don’t want anyone to hear your answers as being the only things that need to be done. But what can people in golf do to bring the game closer to where it needs to be? 

LA: I don’t think it can be fixed unless you fix everything outside of golf. When I say that, I have to be honest in the sense that, yes, I’m still a Black woman, but I am very fortunate to have grown up under the circumstances that I did. I think it’s OK to say I also had to educate myself on what happens to extremely marginalized communities. My senior year of college, I volunteered a little bit in the projects in Tuscaloosa. To be there, it makes it easier to understand, “OK, this is why these people don’t have these opportunities.” You can’t just be like, “Let’s just take them and put them in golf and they’ll learn.” Because if you just throw them in golf, there are so many things you’re not fixing. I don’t know if you’ve seen the meme of the guy who’s fixing the water leak and he just slaps some tape on it, like that’ll fix it. That’s really not it. If you don’t help these kids at the beginning, then there’s just no way. 

TA: I think that’s right. One thing that’s really important is while working toward the big steps, it’s also important to take the small steps on that path. Just like when a white person sees a Black person or another marginalized group off the course at the club, don’t assume that they work there—and then check why you’re making that assumption. That obviously takes real introspection. LA: I just think people should understand that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with ever having to educate yourself on anything. There’s nothing wrong with it at all.