The PGA Tour has historically been devoid of black players. The only two black players currently playing on Tour are Tiger Woods, Harold Varner III, and Cameron Champ. The Tour attempts to increase diversity with the Charlie Sifford memorial exemption, which gives a black player a spot in the field at the Genesis Open each year.
That sponsor’s exemption was taken one step further with the creation of the Charlie Sifford Memorial Invitational. The tournament had a 21-person field battling for a spot in this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.
48-year old Tim O’Neal came out on top with rounds of 71 and 67 to beat Kevin Hall by two shots. O’Neal was the oldest player in the field by a decade—he is old enough to be the women’s championship winner’s father—but he is adamant that age is just a number.
“Being 48, about to turn 49, it's huge for me. Being able to still play at a high level and have an opportunity to play in the Rocket Mortgage, that definitely means a lot to me and getting an opportunity to play is nice,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal certainly has the game to compete this week. He has made seven previous PGA Tour starts dating back to 2002 with his last start coming at the 2019 Genesis Open at Riviera. O’Neal also played on one of the game’s biggest stages when he qualified for the US Open in 2015.
O’Neal will look to make his first cut on the PGA Tour this week. He certainly won’t let his previous results stop him. O’Neal has reached the winner’s circle in the past with three wins on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica—the last coming in 2016—and a win on the Asian Tour.
Making it to the PGA Tour is one of the most difficult task in sports, and O’Neal sees this week as validation for all the grinding on the mini tours.
“I've been doing this for a long time. For me at 48, still to be able to compete and be able to play means a lot to me,” O’Neal said. “Hopefully it's going to inspire guys not to quit and keep grinding.”
O’Neal is grateful for the opportunity this week, and he hopes his play can inspire others to follow in his footsteps. O’Neal believes the inaugural Charlie Shippett Memorial Tournament is a sign of things to come for the golf world.
“Hopefully more tournaments will start doing something similar would be nice, but it is a step in the right direction,” O’Neal said. We're not there yet, but it is a baby step and it is going in the right direction.”