By Maxine Greenleaf
Growing up, professional golfer and Jackson State University alum Shasta Averyhardt spent time tagging along with her father to golf courses in Flint, Michigan. By the age of 7, she had become enticed by the sport, and in 2011 she would become the first African-American on the LPGA Tour in a decade.
Averyhardt recalls emulating her father’s strokes and various mannerisms. “He got me my own cut-down set of pink golf clubs.” She also remembers thinking how cool it was that she could “get the ball up in the air with this tool. And then, to also gradually learn how to shot shape.”
Her passion grew as she began to develop more technique.
“I vividly remember one time on the range when I was young, I learned how to hit the ball right to left, and I was hitting and hitting and hitting,” said Averyhardt. “I told my dad to come watch. At the time, I didn’t know I was hooking the crap out of it, but I realized, at that point, I could do something with this golf club.”
The 2018 JSU Sports Hall of Fame inductee, who came to the university on an athletic scholarship, credits her father for giving her the opportunity to evolve in the sport and her alma mater for helping her to become “mentally tough.”
You should only take advice from people that have actually done what it it that you want to do.
“During my journey, I’ve endured a lot of adversity. I would say attending Jackson State has taught me how to be patient, work around my challenges and figure it out,” she said. “We didn’t really have all the resources as opposed to the bigger Division 1 schools, and you had to make do with what you had.”
Averyhardt said JSU also helped prepare her for life after graduation. “I don’t come from a family of money, so I’ve had to assemble a team and figure out how I’m going to get backing to pay for the cost of playing a privileged sport such as golf.”
Professional golf, she said, means “working for yourself, and you are your own business. It’s not like the NBA or NFL where once you’re declared a professional wads of cash are thrown your way.”
In contrast, Averyhardt said, she had to raise capital every year. While some years were easier than others, overall it was a big challenge.
“Some moments were super stressful financially, which was affecting my game,” she said.
After her sponsorship ended, people began to tell her to start thinking about a plan B. Averyhardt then made the difficult choice to step away from the sport. “I said, ‘OK, maybe this is it.’” Initially, her decision left her frustrated. Golf had been her only profession. However, she soon picked up an accountant position in the tax department for PricewaterhouseCoopers, the second-largest professional services firm in the world.
“It was completely different than what I was doing before,” she said. “I had to sit at a desk, problem-solve and review numbers all day. I had moments where I thought about my classes at Jackson State.”
Later, she partnered with a former LPGA Tour colleague on a podcast. The women took a trip to Chicago for the ESPNW Sports + Women Summit. There, Averyhardt heard many successful Olympians telling their stories. She realized then that her own story wasn’t over.
“I’m going to play again. I don’t know exactly when, but I have to do this,” she recalled telling a friend. “I am going to have the biggest regret of my life if I do not pursue this game to the max.” In March 2017, Averyhardt resigned from PwC.
“That was when I put a plan together,” she said.
Now living in Florida, Averyhardt is training and working with the nonprofit organization Women of Color Golf while raising funds that will help pave a road back to the LPGA Tour. Recently, she signed a sponsorship with a car dealer. She was also featured in Golf Digest for her entrepreneurial spirit in securing funding via a GoFundMe campaign. When asked what advice she might offer others inspired by her perseverance, she keeps it simple.
“You should only take advice from people that have actually done what it is that you want to do,” Averyhardt said. “Those are the only people that know how to help you get there.”