Howard University graduate student Greg Odom Jr.’s first conversation with director of golf Sam Puryear didn’t go smoothly: Puryear recalls Odom initially wasn’t sold on attending a historically Black college after spending two seasons at the University of Memphis and asked the national championship-winning coach whether he drove the team bus.
Now Odom relishes the opportunity to represent HBCU golfers, and both Odom and Puryear fondly look back at the conversation as the beginning of a bond that would help shape Howard’s program. After dealing with the highs and lows of being a collegiate athlete, Odom said his HBCU experience is exactly what he needed at this juncture of his life.
“[At Memphis] my teammates were just teammates, but we became friends. The coaches were more just team-based duties and very structured, kind of like military,” Odom said. “But coming to Howard feels very family-based. I always say Coach [Puryear] is like an uncle to me. Then my teammates, they [are] kind of like my brothers and sisters.
“We all came here, we met together and started to grow closer and bond. All our accomplishments together have just made us even closer.”
Howard’s women’s and men’s golf teams are featured on the fourth season of the Why Not Us series from Andscape, FILM 45 and ESPN+ Originals. All eight episodes chronicling the teams’ 2022-23 season are currently available on ESPN+.
“I think it was cool to see our day-to-day life. A lot of people don’t know what HBCU golf was [and] what it could be, so it’s cool to finally share the light on it,” Odom said. “I was one of those guys who didn’t want to go to an HBCU first because I thought it lacked resources and opportunity. … Howard put us in the right spaces at the right time.”
Odom, one of two players who have been a part of Howard’s golf program since its inaugural season in 2020, was originally committed to the University of Memphis, his hometown school. He was the first African American to play on the Tigers’ golf team.
He has been an integral part of Puryear building Howard’s golf program. Since arriving on campus in 2020, Odom has helped Howard win two PGA Tour Works Collegiate Championships and was a two-time men’s medalist at the collegiate championship, an award given to the golfer with the lowest score.
He attributes his growth as a golfer to his relationship with Puryear and the lessons the coach has taught him over the last four years.
“I think the most impactful thing I learned from him is just trusting the process,” Odom said. “And with trust in the process, you have to be patient. I feel like I wasn’t a guy to always be patient when it came to doing things. I kind of made a way out of no way at the beginning, with the rough road.”
Howard’s golf program is funded by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who returned the program to Division I golf status after a decadeslong hiatus. Curry’s contributions to the program have given Odom the same resources he had at Memphis.
“You just have to cherish those moments,” Odom said. “You have to put the phone down and take in the moment because you don’t have a guy like this very accomplished just walk in the room and be able to pick his brain, talk to him about mental health and what he liked to do in the free time. … Steph [Curry] has made a very huge step in the game of golf. To provide resources, the opportunities for Howard has impacted us for the good.”
Every day in practice, Odom’s teammates notice his effort and willingness to push them all. Graduate student Everett Whiten Jr. said competing against Odom helped motivate him to earn his own men’s medalist title at this year’s collegiate championship.
“Greg’s a great teammate. He’s gonna be himself, which I like,” Whiten said. “He’s hard on you, he pushes you. He makes me a better golfer knowing that I gotta play good golf to compete and beat him and make us better [and] stronger as well.
“[When] Greg won the first PGA Works [men’s medalist] it drove me. It pushed me and motivated me to work hard. I think it’s just having him dap me up and hug me on the green, like, it just felt good having my teammate there.”
Odom’s influence on the golf course isn’t limited to his impact on his teammates. When he goes home to Memphis, Tennessee, or when he’s in Washington, practicing alone he takes pride in helping his teammates and any golfer who approaches him asking for tips.
“I want to be a guy that, you know, people look up to and that they can learn from. I’m also not stingy with my resources,” Odom said. “I opened my arms to all Black golfers and junior golfers. I was the guy that never had anybody to look up to when it came to golf.
“You always had Tiger Woods, but I feel like I couldn’t really connect to him. I’m from Memphis. We have a heavy slang and heavy diction and I have to be me on the course.”
Heading into his final year, Odom and the Bison are on a quest for their third collegiate championship. He isn’t worried about the future of the program after he and Whiten, its original members, graduate at the end of this season.
“I feel like we have laid out a great platform and footprint for our teammates or the younger Black golfers to look at,” Odom said. “And I think it will be impactful because being an HBCU golfer, we’re kind of looked at differently when it comes to collegiate golf or even amateur golf. I can say we’re no longer just HBCU golfers but, you know, world-class amateur golfers.”
Odom debuted on the PGA Tour in May 2022 at the Wells Fargo Championship on a sponsor exemption, competing against two-time PGA Championship winner Rory McIlroy and 2022 U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick. Odom missed the cut and finished two rounds, shooting 12 above par. He also earned exemptions to play five events on the Korn Ferry Tour, a PGA professional developmental tour. In his latest appearance on the Korn Ferry Tour he competed at the Memorial Health Championship this summer and finished one above par, missing the cut.
Playing in PGA Tour events allowed Odom to flirt with the possibility of moving on to play professional golf at the end of the last two seasons, but he ultimately decided to move at his own pace when it comes to pursuing a professional career.
“I wouldn’t say I’m behind the eight ball, but I know that the game has changed since Tiger entered the game,” Odom said. “[Golf’s] moving at a fast rate. I feel like being in college for an extra year or an extra two years is not a bad idea. I can seize the moment when it’s time to seize the moment.”
Odom and Whiten dream of competing against each other as pro golfers. Though Odom has heard a lot of skepticism about HBCU golfers competing professionally, he isn’t bothered by naysayers.
“I feel like at other schools [playing pro golf] is the most realistic goal for all your teammates. … You’re competing against each other on the professional tour. But I know it’s different for us because [people] try to throw it in our face – ‘oh, maybe pro golf won’t work and you can work in the clubhouse’ – but I feel like with all our success and the opportunity we’ve been getting, the chances of actually being on the inside of the ropes and playing is very high.”