Gregory Odom Jr. walked briskly up the hill to the hitting area at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm’s practice facility, rested his blue Howard Bison golf bag beside him and pulled out an iron that shimmered in the sunlight.
“This is the life,” he said.
There’s no doubt Odom has been living his best version in recent weeks. The latest milestone in his golf journey will unfold this week, when Odom makes his first PGA Tour start at the Wells Fargo Championship at TPC Potomac.
Playing as an amateur on a sponsor exemption, Odom is set to tee off Thursday, a little more than two weeks after winning the individual title at the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament and leading the Bison to their first team trophy at Argyle Country Club in Silver Spring.
Odom, who golfed for two years at the University of Memphis before transferring to Howard, will become the first Bison player to participate in a PGA Tour event.
The allure of playing at a historically Black university with the prestige of Howard — combined with assurances of robust financial backing for the school’s golf program, thanks to an investment from NBA star Stephen Curry — influenced Odom’s decision to join the Bison. But Howard Coach Sam Puryear also had a hand in the recruitment.
After seeing Odom’s name in the NCAA’s transfer portal, Puryear made three promises if he chose to come to the District. The first was a conference championship. The second was a gateway to unique opportunities. The third was fulfilling Odom’s childhood dream of playing professional golf.
With the first box checked last month, the second two dovetailed when officials at Wells Fargo — citing a commitment to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion — issued Odom an exemption typically granted to former tournament champions or other professionals, often local, who otherwise failed to qualify.
“We have a long history of supporting HBCUs, and this year we are using the Wells Fargo Championship to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience for young, diverse golfers,” said Pam Batalis, Wells Fargo’s senior vice president of sponsorships and brand engagement. “We are proud to help Gregory Odom Jr. make his PGA Tour debut.”
The resources in Odom’s case have come thanks to Curry’s largesse. The Golden State Warriors all-star provided a seven-figure donation to Howard, announced in 2019, that rebooted the school’s men’s and women’s golf teams after 40 years — and set the stage for Odom’s PGA Tour appearance this week.
“It’s unbelievable in terms of where the program is trying to go — the fact that Greg has been on the squad, been a true team member in terms of representing Howard, the golf program and what we’re trying to do,” Curry said Tuesday ahead of Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Memphis Grizzlies. “He has amazing talent. To get him on the PGA Tour to get some experience, continue to wave the Howard flag, it’s going to be awesome. I’m excited for him.”
Curry’s donation is being paid out over six years, giving the university time to endow a fund with the endgame of having the programs become self-sustaining. A July charity tournament at Pebble Beach in which Curry participated raised a reported $3 million toward that endowment.
Curry’s name caught the attention of sponsors, too. Callaway became the Bison’s official club and ball supplier. Players are fitted in gear from Under Armour, the athletic apparel giant with headquarters in Baltimore for which Curry is a spokesman.
“It’s huge to give HBCUs like Howard a platform to grow,” Odom said, “and the resources to actually be able to compete at a high level.”
Unlike the rest of the field, which been able to practice at TPC Potomac in the days leading up to the tournament, Odom won’t arrive until the first day of the event. He is competing in Philadelphia at the PGA Works Collegiate Championship, the de facto HBCU national tournament. Odom enters Wednesday’s final day of the three-round event with a three-shot lead.
Odom won the individual title last year, when the tournament was held at TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship. Mental fortitude — the most important and developed component in Odom’s golfing arsenal, Puryear said — kept him in the right frame of mind even while processing a family tragedy as well as weathering an extended delay during the final round in which a player one group ahead had to walk back to the tee box and hit again.
Instead of allowing frustration to take hold, Odom remained relaxed and engaged by replaying a track from Memphis-born rapper Pooh Shiesty over and over again in his head.
More strikingly, Odom’s performance came days after his father had died in hospice care back home in Memphis. Kidney failure claimed the life of Greg Sr. at 67, which his son learned when Puryear informed him during a practice round at TPC Sawgrass.
Odom called his mother, and they agreed his father would have wanted him to remain in Florida and play in the tournament. He shot 4-over-par 220 to win by five strokes.
Odom had picked up the sport as a toddler in Memphis under his father’s tutelage. He played at First Tee events in and around Memphis, where many of his fellow players were Black. But golf’s diversity issues became clear to him only after he played in larger, out-of-town tournaments. As has been the case at golf events for much of his life, Odom will be the only Black player in this week’s field of 156, underscoring the continued dearth of representation in a sport whose lily-White tradition has barely budged, even after the rise of Tiger Woods.
The PGA Tour includes only four Black players, and research from diversity group We Are Golf found only 3 percent of recreational players are Black. A former CEO of the PGA of America, Pete Bevacqua, has cited diversity as the sport’s most pressing issue.
Odom has attempted to pass on his love of the sport to others by mentoring young Black golfers in the District and in his hometown in an effort to ensure their experience with the game is as gratifying as his has been.
“I just want to be a role model and show them that they can be here,” Odom said. “They really don’t have to change who they are. With resources and experience and mentorship, they can be in the same situation as I am.”
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