An Exceptional Journey by an Ordinary Person

Golf has always been my passion. As a little girl, it was my dream to be an LPGA Tour player. I wanted to be like my role model Renee Powell. She inspired me to pursue my dream of one day becoming a part of the LPGA.

I had a phenomenal junior golf career in San Diego. But during the seventies, it was very rare that I saw other Black people on the course. I was the only Black girl playing in San Diego Junior Golf Events and Junior PGA Golf Events. There were certain golf courses we couldn’t go to or even go into the pro shops. As a little girl, I didn’t really understand racism. It was there but I focused on playing golf.

I started playing golf at age 7 and won my first tournament at age 8. I won the 1974 Junior World Championship when I was ten years old and I am the only African American female to hold four Junior World trophies. I am proud to say that my photo is in the golf shop at the world-renowned Torrey Pines golf shop next to that of Tiger Woods. I am also the only African American female to win the San Diego Women's City Amateur Championship. 

I earned a full collegiate golf scholarship at the United States International University. During my collegiate golf career, I won the first inaugural National Minority Collegiate Golf tournament and was ranked no. 25 out of 820 women collegiate golfers in the nation. I graduated with a degree in communications and competed on what is now known as the Epson Tour, winning several events and shooting the women’s course records at Canyon Crest Country Course during the Michelob Golf Classic. I am one of five African Americans to play in the U.S. Women’s Open.

It was a struggle being the only Black woman playing out there at that time, and I can relate to the adversity that other African Americans like Jackie Robinson went through. After 25 years of playing competitive golf, I reinvented myself and joined FedEx, where I served as a Customer Service Agent, Senior Human Resources Coordinator and one of three African American female Operations Manager in the San Diego District. Breaking the glass ceiling had its challenges, but it has been extremely rewarding.

I made the decision to retire early after being diagnosed with breast cancer. My Stage I cancer quickly progressed to Stage IV. That was the toughest eighteen holes of golf I ever played. But I am happy to say that I am now 12 years cancer free.

It was my strong faith, dedicated doctors, a strong family support system, and the Desire, Dedication, Determination I learned and demonstrated during my golf career that helped me to win the battle.

In 2017, I was invited to join the LPGA Professionals. When I received my Class A certification, it brought tears to my eyes. Dreams do come true; I never gave up and returned to my passion. I became an LPGA Professional to help make a difference and introduce this wonderful game to women and young girls. It's such a joy. And I am grateful to be a part of the LPGA today.

Being a third-degree burn victim at five years old, overcoming cancer, having major back surgery (the same anterior lumbar procedure as Tiger Woods), and having to deal with adversity my whole life, I knew I had to keep fighting and smiling. And in my heart, I also knew that I had to give back.

I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Now I am a motivational speaker, sharing my story with others who may face similar challenges. I also love being able to give back to kids in the inner city and community.

There are so many different challenges in life and despite being an inductee of the San Diego Hall of Champions and the African American Golfers Hall of Fame and serving as a Board Member for numerous foundations and organizations, being a champion in life far outweighs all the accolades.

When you love yourself and give back to your community, it makes all the difference in the world. That keeps you smiling.

Remember, it’s not the adversity you face, but how you face adversity that defines you as a person and builds character.

Black History Month: Avis Brown-Riley

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Avis Brown-Riley in her Black History Month Q&A.

LPGA Diversity Hub Profile