Golf is a mental game. A sport that calls for concentration and avoiding distraction from outside noise. For Quinn Riley, being a Black golfer has allowed him to take that mindset to another level.
Riley has played the sport since he was six, often being the only Black person at the country club or on the team. He said he’s learned to “compartmentalize” any challenges he may face being the minority in the sport.
“The more I exercise that [comparmentalization], I think it helps me when I get out there and focus on the task at hand,” the 23-year-old Raleigh, N.C. native told QCity Metro.
Riley, along with fellow Black golfer Marcus Byrd, has the opportunity to test his skills against some of the best golfers in the country when he participates in the Wells Fargo Championship, May 4-7, at Quail Hollow Club in south Charlotte.
Both golfers received the PGA’s sponsor exemptions, an invitation for golfers to play in a tournament they did not qualify for.
Why it matters: Of the nearly 29,000 PGA of America members, fewer than 1 percent are African Americans, according to Golf Digest.
Riley was first exposed to golf when traveling with his family on a business trip to Scotland. His uncle, an avid golfer, played at St. Andrews Links, one of the oldest courses in the world.
Since then, Riley found an interest in the sport and began playing at country clubs with his uncle. He also graduated from the First Tee program, a 501 nonprofit organization that teaches children life and social skills through golf lessons.
He continued during his time at Ravenscroft High School in Raleigh, N.C., where he became a three-time first-team All-State and All-Conference selection, leading the team to the 3A State Championship title in 2017.
Riley later accepted a scholarship to Duke University, becoming the first Black golfer in program history.
He said he wasn’t surprised by the historic statistic.
“Going around to different country clubs and being the only one, it was a difficult thing I had to work through,” he said. “You kinda get used to it after a while.”
Riley was a standout on the Duke golf team. As a senior, he earned a number of career milestones, including:
- Earning a career-best scoring average
- Earned his first individual win at the Stitch Intercollegiate, finishing at 4-under (70, 71, 71).
- became the 77 Blue Devil to win individual medalist honors, and the first since 2018-19.
- Led Duke in his first career ACC Championship with three consecutive rounds under par to place tied for 16th at 4-under.
Riley went professional after graduating in 2022.
He finished first atop the Advocates Professional Golf Association (APGA) Tour rankings in 2021-22 and earned an exemption into last year’s John Deere Classic.
He will make his third start at Wells Fargo Championship, an opportunity he didn’t expect to come so soon in his career.
Riley said he received the call about his sponsor exemption two weeks ago. The opportunity, he said, was “exciting, but alarming” because he had short notice to prepare.
Handling the competition
The 156-player field participating in this week’s tournament includes big names like Rory McIlroy, Max Homa, Justin Thomas and Cameron Young.
Riley said since arriving on the course, there are moments where he’s been in awe crossing paths with some of his favorite golfers. He got the chance to play with Homma on the course.
Riley’s fondest memory of the Wells Fargo Championship was watching Tiger Woods win the tournament in 2007, he said. He models his game after Woods, he said.
“He handles his business being efficient [and] not spending a lot of energy,” he said. “That’s what I try to go after.”
Riley said he believes his preparation will help him keep up with the competition.
He attributes the scarcity of Black golfers to the rising cost of golfing equipment and limited golf resources and training accessible in the Black community.
He said he wants to show Black kids that there is a place in the sport for them as well.
“I just want to represent them well and show them that anything is possible,” he said.