Step through the front door of the Stackhouses' modest, suburban Atlanta home and golf trophies are immediately omnipresent.
They are carefully arranged in all shapes and sizes: plaques, crystal, glass, plastic and metal.
Mariah Stackhouse has indeed built a collection worthy of a hall of fame.
In March, the Stanford University sophomore added to her remarkable portfolio by becoming the first African-American to be named to a USA Curtis Cup Team. Stackhouse, 20, will join seven other elite female amateurs June 6-8 at St. Louis Country Club when the USA looks to regain the Cup it lost two years ago to Great Britain and Ireland.
Stackhouse’s success would have been far less likely in a different era. Thank goodness for progress. Thank goodness for opportunity. Thank goodness a young lady with natural talent for the game can now fulfill her dreams.
“To be the first African-American on the Curtis Cup Team is amazing,” said Stackhouse, a first-team All-American who is No. 17 in the latest Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™. “I don’t look at myself as a trailblazer. But I think that it is really cool.”
For many years, golf was not an inclusive game, especially for minorities. Althea Gibson, Ann Gregory and Renee Powell helped the cause. In 1956, Gregory became the first black woman to play in a USGA championship when she competed in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Meridian Hills Country Club in Indianapolis.
When Tiger Woods exploded onto the scene in the 1990s, he ushered in a new generation of golf fans. Stackhouse was an infant when Woods collected the first of his three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles and a toddler when he made his professional debut. That’s when Ken Stackhouse cut down some clubs and let his daughter whack some real golf balls – he didn’t believe in using plastic ones – to get a feel for the game. Mariah often tagged along with her dad to a couple of nine-hole courses in Charlotte, N.C., where she was born.
Ken, a commercial architect who graduated from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, had taken up the game after college. As a youth, track was his passion and he was good enough to earn a scholarship to Charleston Southern University, where he competed for two years.
Athletic prowess runs in the Stackhouse family. Jerry Stackhouse, Ken’s cousin, was an All-America basketball player at the University of North Carolina and later a standout in the NBA. Mariah’s younger brother, John, is a football player/track athlete at North Clayton High in Riverdale, Ga., and hopes to play one of those sports in college this fall.
It was after the family moved to Atlanta when Mariah was 4 that she started to show true promise as a golfer. Ken recalls her returning from a visit with her grandparents in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and joining him on the range at Browns Mill Golf Course in Atlanta, where she proceeded to hit perfect little draws – at age 5.
“How is that little girl hitting the ball like that?” Ken asked himself at the time. “It was amazing. Prior to that, we had not seen a little boy hit a ball like that, let alone a little girl.
“We saw [the natural talent] from the beginning. It was a blessing. I am not that good [of a golfer]. It’s a natural gift.”
Going To Another Level
As Mariah started racking up victories, she was ready for professional instruction. Ken contacted Chan Reeves at the Atlanta Athletic Club, who was skeptical at first, but after Ken rattled off her competitive portfolio, he was both intrigued and amazed.
“What kind of résumé could she have at 9?” said Reeves, the nephew of former NFL player and coach Dan Reeves. “He sent me two pages.
“Talent-wise, we worked on things when she was 12 that I work on with 16-year-olds. She always was ahead of the game.”
At 12, Stackhouse qualified for her first U.S. Girls’ Junior at Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, N.C. Even though the course was a bit too challenging for Stackhouse, Reeves was amazed how she handled the experience.
“This is my favorite Mariah Stackhouse story,” said Reeves. “When she came back, I asked her what the coolest thing was about the event. I thought it would be seeing her name on the caddie bib or numerous things you could come up with. She said the coolest thing is you can go in the locker room and get as many ice creams as you wanted. I looked at her and said, ‘You actually get it.’ That’s pretty good for a 12-year-old.”
Stackhouse continued to build her reputation over the ensuing six years. Ralph Boston, the 1960 Olympic long jump gold medalist, took notice when he met the Stackhouse family at a local charity golf tournament. Boston, along with other African-American community leaders, helped organize a fund to help Stackhouse with expenses to attend junior tournaments, which didn’t jeopardize her amateur status.
“When I met Mariah, there was a lady running through my mind – my mother, Eulalia,” Boston told the New York Times in a 2011 article on Stackhouse. “She’d always tell me, ‘Whenever you can open a door, you do it.’ So basically I had to help Mariah, because people helped me.”
“It’s been a beautiful experience,” said Sharon Stackhouse, Mariah’s mother. “[Boston] supports her and calls her.”
Stackhouse, who in 2009 became the youngest winner of the Georgia PGA Women’s Open, quickly became the state’s top junior, and one of the country’s elite players.
In her home state, she was a four-time Georgia State Golf Association Girls Player of the Year (2007-10) and twice defeated Erin Packer, the daughter of two-time U.S. Senior Open champion Allen Doyle, in the championship match of the Georgia Women’s Match Play (2007-08), and bested former University of Mississippi star Dori Carter in a three-hole aggregate playoff to win the 2009 Georgia Women’s Amateur.
That same year, along with Carter and Laura Coble, Stackhouse led Georgia to victory at the USGA Women’s State Team Championship at Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Nationally, Stackhouse was an American Junior Golf Association All-American from 2009-11, earning first-team honors in 2011. She was selected for the 2011 U.S. Junior Solheim Cup Team and at 16 earned a sponsor’s invitation to the LPGA Tour’s Mojo 6 event in Jamaica.
Throughout her rapid ascent, race has never played a role.
“She doesn’t seem too focused on it,” said Sharon. “That’s what we’ve always tried to tell her. She’s a golfer first. You can’t carry race on your shoulders. Golf is hard enough.”
Academics have always been important to Stackhouse. Both her parents graduated from college, and Sharon once dreamed of her daughter attending Duke University, a strong academic school where the women’s golf team is consistently among the nation’s elite.
“In high school, it was engrained in me,” said Mariah. “I knew I was going to Duke.”
When Stanford showed interest, Mariah was encouraged by her mom to at least visit. So they made a West Coast trip, going to Stanford and UCLA, which had also offered a scholarship.
One day on the Palo Alto, Calif., campus convinced Stackhouse of her future.
“I had to be at Stanford,” she said. “I had to get in.”
Unlike most Division I schools, students must be accepted by Stanford before receiving any scholarship. Stackhouse, an A student in high school, had little trouble doing so.
Once enrolled, Stackhouse felt comfortable. It didn’t hurt that African-American trailblazer Condoleezza Rice, one of the first two females to be invited to join Augusta National Golf Club, was a faculty member.
When Stackhouse carded a school- and NCAA-record 61 last season as a freshman – which included an unfathomable 9-under-par 26 on the outward nine – in the final round of Stanford’s Peg Barnard Invitational, Rice sent her a hand-written congratulatory note. Days after being named to the Curtis Cup Team, Stackhouse received an email from Rice, an honorary chairman for the biennial competition .
Off the course, Stackhouse is ebullient, articulate and benevolent, always willing to give time to others, especially juniors. Last year, she spoke at the Bill Dickey Invitational, a junior tournament for minority golfers that Stackhouse won in 2007. She eloquently answered questions about the transition to college golf.
Despite a seemingly promising future in golf, don’t look for Stackhouse to enter LPGA Tour Qualifying School before earning a communications degree from Stanford.
“That’s what we worked for,” said Ken. “Get to the best school possible. It makes a big difference standing over a 3-foot putt with a degree from Stanford as opposed to standing there with nothing. There is no guarantee that she is going to make the LPGA Tour.”
Getting the Call
Since arriving at Stanford in 2012, Stackhouse’s goal was making the 2014 USA Curtis Cup Team. Her two-year portfolio is impressive: four college victories, including the UC Irvine Invitational that landed her a sponsor’s exemption into the LPGA Tour’s Kia Classic earlier this spring; a two-time U.S. Women’s Open qualifier (2012 and 2013) and an invite to the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first women’s major of the year, that she politely turned down due to a scheduling conflict.
A few weeks later, Stackhouse received a voicemail from Tom O’Toole Jr., the USGA president. Her initial reaction was worry. Was she in trouble? Her roommate, track and field thrower Shavana Talbert, encouraged her to call back immediately.
“[Shavana] was standing over there beaming,” said Stackhouse upon getting the good news from O’Toole about making the 2014 Curtis Cup Team. “It was a dream come true.”
Ellen Port, the USA captain, followed with a phone call and she was immediately floored by Stackhouse’s maturity.
“In closing, she said, ‘Captain, is there anything I can do for you?’ I don’t know if that question had ever been asked in an initial captain-player conversation,” said Port.
All eight USA Curtis Cup competitors are collegians, and four are Pacific-12 Conference rivals of Stackhouse: Annie Park and Kyung Kim (USC), and Alison Lee and Erynne Lee (no relation, of UCLA). Fellow Georgia native Ashlan Ramsey, a Clemson freshman, is also on the team, along with two other Southerners – Emma Talley (Alabama), of Princeton, Ky., and Ally McDonald (Mississippi State), of Fulton, Miss.
Team chemistry is extremely good. Virtually all of the players have known each other since junior golf, so Port has plenty of possible combinations for foursomes (alternate-shot) and four-ball.
That was on display during an informal match against eight top male golfers from St. Louis on April 12 at St. Louis C.C. Stackhouse and Talley defeated Bill Dewitt III, a six-time club champion and current president of the St. Louis Cardinals, and partner Toby Martin, 2 and 1.
“Team things are cool and special things to qualify for,” said Stackhouse. “I didn’t think I would play college golf so well so quickly. I thought it would take some time.”
Stackhouse joins Tiger Woods in an exclusive club. Woods (1995) remains the only African-American to play in the Walker Cup.
Stackhouse won’t be thinking about history when she steps on the first tee on June 6. Her sole focus will be on beating Great Britain and Ireland.
The eight-member USA side symbolizes the strides golf has made in bridging the equality gap with an African-American and four Asian-Americans on its roster. Port only sees eight talented golfers with one simple goal: reclaiming the Curtis Cup for the USA.
That’s the only history that matters to Stackhouse and her teammates.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.