JOHN’S CREEK, Ga. | In the midst of one of those Georgia spring downpours that old-timers call a gullywasher, a small gaggle of media and a handful of representatives from KPMG and the PGA of America huddled inside the hitting bays of the Atlanta Athletic Club Performance Center to hear updates about the upcoming KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
PGA of America president Jim Richerson came. So did KPMG’s deputy chair and chief operating officer Laura Newinski. Representing the LPGA was Roberta Bowman, chief brand and communications officer. They all waxed eloquently about the upcoming major and broke some news about KPMG and the PGA of America committing to charitable causes through the event, including the Renee Powell Clearview Legacy Benefit and the “Birdies for Books” benefit to fight childhood illiteracy.
But those executives, with all their polish and command presence, openly admitted that their presentations couldn’t hold a candle to what came after.
Just a few minutes removed from Newinski’s final remarks, LPGA Tour player Mariah Stackhouse walked out and hushed the crowd. Stackhouse has the “it” factor that is impossible to explain. To give you an example, when she was a 16-year-old kid, she was the player representative on the American Junior Golf Association board. At the annual meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Stackhouse gave a presentation and immediately afterward, AJGA executive director Stephen Hamlin said, “The only thing I can say to follow that is that someday in the future, Mariah Stackhouse will either be a successful player on the LPGA Tour or president of the United States.”
She is currently the former. The latter isn’t out of the question.
With lightening popping behind her in the Georgia sky, Stackhouse shared some of her background and personal story to a captivated audience.
“I started playing golf at (age) two,” she said. “I was a daddy's girl and followed him everywhere he went, so that meant to the golf course. But I grew up playing right here in the Atlanta area, got my start at an inner-city course downtown and grew from there.
“I played local tours here. My dad was very intentional about the journey. He wouldn't let me advance to the next level until he felt that I was the best at the (current) level, so it was local, then it was state, then it was regional, and then continuing on to American Junior Golf finally towards the end of my junior career.”
She went on to describe how her father, Ken, an architect, and mother, Sharon, a healthcare administrator, instilled a pledge in their children.
“When I was a young girl, my parents created an affirmation for me that I would repeat to myself in the morning every day before I went to school,” Stackhouse said. “That affirmation was four paragraphs long and it focused on a few things. One, me being a confident young Black woman, a confident person, and a confident athlete. To give you an idea of what that affirmation sounded like, I'll share a couple of lines. One of my favorites is ‘I know that I can do anything I set my mind to. I am a very proud person with my own ideas and my own direction in life.’
“I think that repeating this to myself in the morning every day growing up and still to this day, what it does is when life undoubtedly gets hard - and it's easy to go through moments of doubt and difficult situations - that affirmation has always provided me strength and confidence and the understanding that I can see my way through any of the challenges that come my way. That has been instrumental.”
Stackhouse talked at length about her connection to Atlanta, where she still lives, and how excited she is to have her sponsor, KPMG, and the PGA of America in coordination with the LPGA, bring women’s major championship golf to the home club of Bobby Jones and Alexa Stirling.
“I think it has been over 15 years since the LPGA has been in Atlanta and anybody here who has played golf and is familiar with golf in the state of Georgia, I think there are few other states that have a stronger collection of juniors, amateurs, and people that just love, and are huge fans of, the game,” she said. “I think this is going to be an incredible opportunity for us as women to play here. I think we're going to have incredible fan engagement, and this course is just supreme. It's going to be a great week of golf.”
It should be noted that at the moment, Stackhouse is the only Black player on the LPGA Tour. But anyone who spends a few minutes with her sees nothing but the content of her character.
“It honestly inspires me to understand that I am an inspiration to a lot of young Black golfers playing the game,” she said. “I think that I've gotten an opportunity to see those numbers growing, especially with junior and college golf right now. And I think I'm able to witness that a bit because of how social media has given a lot of people platforms.
“But I see a lot of young girls that remind me of myself when I was little, playing and playing well, I think in larger numbers than was the case when I was playing junior golf.
“The game is truly growing, and I'm excited to be able to continue to provide a bit of visibility along with the other players on the LPGA and Symetra Tours. And I will do everything in my power to continue to lift the young women coming up. I'm excited for them to make their way through college and be out here, as well.”