The U.S. Women’s
Amateur Public Links in June was much more than a national championship for at
least two contestants in the field.
The WAPL, which
was played at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club in Norman, Okla., provided both Shawnee
Martinez, 19, of Modesto, Calif., and Erika Salinas, 23, of Sacramento, Calif.,
with an opportunity to meet and spend time with their respective Native American
families, and to gain a sense of community through their family heritage.
“It’s been good
to be here because it almost feels like home,” said Martinez, who is part
Mexican and a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe. “This is where my family’s
land is and it feels good to be among so many other people like me.”
members of her Oklahoma family, which has roots in both the Comanche and Kiowa
tribes, several years ago when she was 13.
sister still lives in the same house she was born in,” said Salinas, a senior
at Sacramento State University. “Oklahoma is somewhere that I’ve always wanted
to live and it’s just an empowering feeling to be here.”
has a large number of Native Americans, both players say that their families
are scattered and that much of their cultural heritage has taken a backseat to
the faster pace of the Golden State.
“I wish I could
learn more about our heritage, but I’m so far away from other Native Americans
in California,” said Martinez, a sophomore at Long Beach State University whose
father taught her to play golf at age 4. “I am meeting my family members in
Oklahoma this week for the first time.”
with her parents and older sister, Marina, drove 24 hours from California,
stopping only in New Mexico for a nap. The long drive was worth it for the
chance to meet their family, as well as for Shawnee to play in a national
Martinez said her
father raises funds to help her travel to tournaments, and she earns scholarship
money from her tribe if she maintains at least a 3.0 grade point average. “It’s
huge to be here and I’ve got to take every opportunity I can get,” said
Martinez, who majors in photography and hopes to play professional golf.
Growing up in
California, Salinas says she never saw any Native Americans play golf other
than former PGA Tour player Notah Begay III, who is Navajo. She began playing
golf at age 5 and learned the game from her father.
supports me and that’s really important,” Salinas said.
Both players hoped
that young Native Americans would come to the WAPL to see talented players from
around the world compete in a national championship.
“I want them to
realize there’s more to life and they are capable of doing more than they
think,” said Martinez. “I don’t see too many Native Americans playing sports at
all and that’s sad.”
advanced into the match-play bracket, but each said the championship provided a
valuable learning opportunity.
“It was a great
accomplishment just to get here and to play with the best of the best,” said
Salinas, who also enjoyed reconnecting with her tribal culture. One of the
things she learned from her grandmother, Tomah Yeahquo, is how to perform sign
language for the deaf in both the Comanche and Apache languages.
Salinas plans to
earn her undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work and she hopes to
earn her Ph.D. in Native American studies at the University of
important and we need our educated people to lead our people,” Salinas said.
“I’m the first person from my family to graduate from high school, so I want to
do what I can to represent my tribe and my family, and to help lead others.”