Just in time for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday in two days, Joseph Bramlett has a dream, too.
Bramlett is a rookie debuting on the PGA Tour at the Sony Open in Hawaii today. The fact that he is one of such 35 beginners wouldn’t ordinarily include an invitation to the media room to discuss his hopes and dreams in detail before he had plopped his first birdie on tour.
But Bramlett is hardly your everyday rookie. More like a once-in-a-decade — or quarter-century — arrival really, as this particular corner of history tells us.
Bramlett, you see, is the multiracial son of an African-American father and Caucasian mother and, thus we are told, the first of African-American heritage to debut on tour in the 13 years since Tiger Woods’ arrival and the first to gain entry directly from PGA qualifying school in 25 years, following Adrian Stills.
Bramlett is the first of a generation who followed Woods’ exploits and sought to emulate them to reach the tee on this stage. So, as much as Bramlett might like to be asked about opening-day butterflies, completing his Stanford education in 3 1/2 years, being the youngest youth qualifier to the U. S. Amateur, the weather or even who the next Cardinal football coach should be, the question of race was both inevitable and early in coming yesterday at rain-sodden Waialae Country Club.
"Do I hope it wouldn’t be an issue, yes," Bramlett answered frankly.
But even at his 22 years, Bramlett has seen enough of golf in particular and the world in general to know better. Enough to understand, for example, that if change doesn’t begin with him he is positioned to become a prime agent in it for years and generations to come. A role he embraces, you suspect, both for the challenge it poses and through the obligation he feels.
When Bramlett was in kindergarten and elementary school and other kids talked of someday becoming policemen, playing in the NBA or being astronauts, he had his own out-of-this world goal, or so it seemed to some: to play on the PGA Tour. "Nobody understood it," Bramlett said. "They thought it was kinda weird."
Back then, BT — before Tiger — there was scant frame of reference for an African-American kid with a club in his hands and pro golf ambitions, hardly anywhere to look for inspiration.
"I think that, hopefully, I can leave an impact on the game that can help change things further," Bramlett said. "Tiger had a huge impact and I’m just one of several kids coming up right now."
Bramlett’s father, Marlo, not Woods, was responsible for helping bring along his son’s earliest interest in golf. But from the time that Marlo began taking Joseph to watch Woods play at Stanford, a 20-minute drive from their Saratoga, Calif., home, the success of the one he calls "Mr. Woods" opened his eyes and helped set his sights.
And not just for the white swoosh Bramlett now wears on his left shoulder and cap.
"I think having Tiger there was an amazing role model for me because I truly identified with the way he did things, from his work ethic to how he worked out to just the way he treated the game," Bramlett said. "You could tell it was something he really loved as a kid and he had great dreams and he just followed them along. I could really identify with him as a role model, seeing he was somebody like myself, it definitely helped."
It is an inspiration he aims to repay in kind. "I think when you have little kids growing up and seeing that there is such a diverse group of people on the PGA Tour, I think it can truly inspire kids to think that ‘I can do it, too,’ " Bramlett said. "I think that any time you’re able to break down some kind of barrier I think it is something that will create attention and, hopefully, I can use that as good attention."
Bramlett said, "I think that by the time I’m done (playing) — and sitting in a rocking chair — I think that, hopefully, this game will look a little different."
Yes, Bramlett has a dream and it isn’t all that different from Dr. King’s.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.