By Anthony Witrada | PGA of America | NNPA

(PGA/NNPA) – As a pre-teen, Demarkis Cooper dreamed of playing quarterback. Maybe one day be the face of a franchise, or even the face of the NFL.

But within minutes in June 2008, after hitting a handful of golf balls while on vacation with his family, Cooper made a spontaneous statement that would change his life.

“I will never play football again!” Cooper proclaimed to his father, Derwin, days after Tiger Woods won the US Open with a fractured leg.

With that declaration, the 12-year-old Cooper was well on his way to becoming a member of the PGA of America, an influential voice in golf’s development efforts to diversify the sport and make it a more inclusive activity.

He was recognized for this past week at the 2022 PGA Show in Orlando as a shining example of the Make golf your move.

Cooper is also part of the 2021-22 season PGA HEAD to classify.

PGA LEAD is a two-year leadership training program for diverse members committed to taking on volunteer leadership roles within the PGA at the Chapter, Section and National levels.

It’s another way for underrepresented members to have a stronger voice within the Association and the golf industry.

If you are interested in PGA membership, visit pga.org/membership.

As one of the few black professionals in the PGA – less than 1% of PGA professionals are African American – Cooper, a black man, understands his role in creating an atmosphere in which more people feel comfortable and that changes some of the negative perceptions of golf.

His work at CitySwing, an indoor golf course in Washington DC that strives to “change the culture of golf by removing barriers to play,” reflects this.

“We all need to do our part to make sure we get more people into golf,” says Cooper, now 25.

“Being part of the PGA and what they’re doing to really try to make things more inclusive, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do at CitySwing. So people who come from different backgrounds, they have someone like me to watch and connect with to keep them in the game.

“I just want to be able to make the biggest difference possible.”

After that family trip, Cooper, a multi-sport athlete, wasted no time competing in the area’s junior golf tournaments.

To his surprise in his first competition, there was no half-time break after nine holes, and he estimates he shot “about 150” in that first event.

Still, he fell in love with the game and continued to play college golf at HBCU Maryland Eastern Shore while completing his PGA Golf Management University program.

The PGA’s PGM programs provide classroom instruction, internship experience and player development opportunities for aspiring PGA professionals.

Currently, 18 universities offer the bachelor’s degree program.

To learn more about the PGA of America’s PGM program, visit pga.org/membership/university-program.

Going through the program, Cooper became fully invested in pursuing a career in golf. It was his passion and he wanted to stay involved in any way possible.

“The way I thought to myself, I love golf, and if I’m a PGA member, I’ll still have a job in golf,” Cooper says. “I knew I could make this a lifelong career, and that’s what I wanted to do.”

Earning a membership and becoming a PGA teaching professional is how Cooper makes a living out of this passion.

And after countless hours of lessons and experience speaking with new golfers, he believes the way to bring more people of color into the game, the industry and potentially PGA members, is to engage their love for the grassroots game.

Programs like Junior PGA League and PGA Family Cup, he believes, are great ways to attract new young audiences and create that love from an early age. And with non-traditional facilities like CitySwing, these experiences can aim to provide people with a comfortable and welcoming experience that inspires them to play and find their love.

Cooper says he also promotes various golf influencers like NBA star Stephen Curry, a PGA Jr. League ambassador, and influencer Roger Steele, the founder of progressive content agency HIPE Media, can be ways to get people of color interested in golf, even if they’ve never thought of it before.

With an emphasis on the fact that the more people see other people who look like them playing the game, the more likely they are to engage with it.

According to Cooper, there won’t be another “tiger boom” that fuels an influx of diverse actors. While it’s certainly possible for another African-American golfer to have massive influence, chances are he won’t dominate like Woods did, or captivate society enough to create the same phenomenal impact.

That means it’s up to people like Cooper to welcome the next wave.

“If you don’t play golf, you don’t watch golf. So my focus is on the ground, what I can do, and welcoming those people,” says Cooper.

“The more people of color who play golf, the more interested they will be in working in golf and joining the PGA. [as Members]. It just has to be a big group effort.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a PGA member, visit pga.org/membership.