Sisters taking golf world by storm
A pair of 9-iron wielding sisters from the South Side of Chicago have been labeled the Venus and Serena Williams of golf. That's a lot of pressure for two young girls, but the headstrong pair is undaunted.
When asked what they think of being compared to tennis' famous duo, Myah Jackson, the younger of the two, quickly answers.
"I wonder what the Williams sisters think of us."
That mentality, combined with the ability to drive the golf ball a long way, has enabled the girls, who fittingly call themselves the "Birdie Sisters," to annihilate their competition.
Myah, 12, and Erica Jackson, 14, started playing golf at age 4 and have accumulated more than 300 tournament victories. Myah recently won the 39th Annual Pepsi Little People's Golf Championship in Quincy, Ill. Their next competition begins Tuesday at the Callaway Junior World Golf Tournament at Torrey Pines on the Tiger Woods Foundation National Junior Golf Team, which they have been members of since 2008.
"They have their own trophy room. They are about to move us out," said their father, Eric Jackson, 42.
Golf is business for these girls, who play without dwelling on the fact that they are often the only black golfers in the field. In last year's Illinois Elementary School Association state tournament, there were 132 participants, and Myah and Erica were the only two black golfers.
They finished first and second.
"They are part of a younger generation, and they are a lot less focused on race," Eric said. "They didn't grow up in the civil rights era like I did."
Although race makes the Birdie Sisters stand out, it's money that makes the difference in how and where they can compete.
In the summer, they play on a nine-hole public course for $26 apiece for four hours every day, even Sundays.
"We only have 12 Sundays in the summer in Chicago before the cold hits. The Lord understands," Eric said.
If the girls get tired on the course, dad will spend the extra $20 for a cart. That's a total of $1,560 a month, not including cart fees, to practice.
In the winter months, they use an $11,000 golf simulator in the basement that the girls are rapidly outgrowing. Between practice, tournament fees, traveling, lodging, coaching and equipment, the family spends about $40,000 a year for the girls to compete.
"This is an expensive sport, and the better you get, the more expensive it becomes. The last club I bought Erica cost $1,000," Eric said. "I believe golf is designed to price black people out, and if these girls don't get the financial backing they need, it could be the end of them competing."
Chicago's We Can Inc., a community outreach organization, held a golf outing and donated part of the proceeds to the girls' golf expenses.
"We are supporting them because all too often we find young children from our community are involved in sports like this or other activities and they don't have the kind of support from the community that they deserve," said Florence Cox, head of We Can Inc., and former Chicago Board of Education president, according to the website Chicago Now. "We are trying to fill the gap on behalf of the community."The Monday men's league at the girls' home course gave them $200 to enter a tournament. Its members also provide them with snacks and rides when needed.
"It's a very expensive game and it's going to take a village to raise a minority champion," Eric told Chicago Now.
The ultimate payoff will be receiving a college golf scholarship. The girls' father, who played football at Michigan State on a scholarship, knows athletics can open doors for his girls.
"I didn't want them to get into a sport that had any physical limitations to it," Eric said. "If you are fat, skinny, tall or short you can play golf. The easiest way into the history books is golf for a black woman. The opportunities are there, and their face will be right next to Tiger's if they win an LPGA event."
Erica hopes to attend Howard University, and Myah wants to study veterinary science at Georgetown or Cornell.
"I wouldn't quit golf until I didn't need it anymore. It's a tool to help me get where I want to go in life," said Erica, who wants to coach someday.
Although golf has become the family business, with the girls missing as many as 20 days of school a year for tournaments, they maintain 3.4 grade-point averages.
They also have interests in addition to golf. They volunteer at church and sing in the choir. They also enjoy taekwondo; each is a second-degree black belt.
"Burnout will not be an issue for my girls," Eric said "We don't even watch golf in my house. They probably couldn't tell you what is happening in the golf world right now."
Like most adolescents, the girls spend their leisure time texting, surfing the Web and drooling over teenage fads. Myah can recite the names and birthdays of every member in the British-Irish boy band One Direction, but Erica prefers reading the "Twilight" series (she's totally Team Edward).
Their parents also have taught them about black history in America and about those who made it possible for them to play any golf course. This is probably why their heroes are not golf legends but African-American legends.
Myah reveres track and field legend Wilma Rudolph, and Erica particularly admires their fellow Chicagoan, President Barack Obama, whose home is less than a mile from the Jacksons'.
Erica said, "He's from Chicago and made it big. Why can't we?"