Joseph Bramlett graduates to PGA Tour
We've been waiting a long time for Joseph Bramlett. Thirteen years, to be exact.
When a 21-year-old Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters, driving ranges across the country were immediately saturated with new faces. It was the dawning of a new era at warp speed, the game no longer beholden to older, upper-class, white golfers. Instead, crowds began trending younger and more diverse.
While the so-called "Tiger Effect" spawned a new generation of golf fans, its impact within the African-American community never took shape at the game's most elite levels. Since that historic victory at Augusta National Golf Club, Woods has remained the lone player of African-American heritage to own PGA Tour playing privileges.
By posting an 11-under total through six rounds at the PGA Tour's annual Qualifying Tournament, Bramlett earned his card Monday for the upcoming 2011 season.
The similarities between Woods and Bramlett don't end with the fact that they now compete on the major league circuit. Each born to an African-American father (Bramlett's mother is Caucasian; Tiger's is Thai), they both attended Stanford University and are sponsored by equipment manufacturer Nike.
They've played practice rounds together -- most notably at Pebble Beach prior to this year's U.S. Open -- and forged a relationship that even led Woods to publicly congratulate Bramlett upon learning of his success.
"Congrats to Joe Bramlett for making it through Q School," Woods wrote on Twitter. "Can't wait to play with him next season."
When told of those words, Bramlett beamed. "That's pretty cool," he said. "That means a lot, I'm not gonna lie. Just to know that he knows what's going on and things are going in the right direction."
It would be easy to paint a picture of Bramlett as the PGA Tour's first product of the "Tiger Effect," the first young African-American to follow in Woods' footsteps. There's only one small problem. It would also be untrue.
You see, Bramlett wasn't one of the thousands who took up the game simply because he wanted to be the next Tiger. Now 22, he first started swinging a plastic club at "age 2 or 3," emulating his father Marlo in a full-length mirror in their home long before Woods ever became a household name.
"The player he kind of looked up to was Davis Love III," Marlo recalled. "Not until Tiger hit the scene did we start following him."
He means that quite literally. Living about 20 minutes from the Stanford campus, father and son would often be part of the 15- to 20-person gallery watching Woods compete during his college days. When Joseph decided to attend the school, he got to know the pro off the course, as Tiger would host the team for a barbecue once per year in Orlando, Fla.
"He was a huge influence on me as a little kid," Bramlett intimated. "Getting to know him, he's meant a whole lot to me. He's been extremely helpful and given me a lot of guidance. He's been great."
Make no mistake, though. Joseph's biggest influence has always been his father.
From those first swings in front of the mirror to the trips to watch golf at Stanford and through a recent two-year recovery process from multiple wrist injuries, he credits Marlo for helping him along the way.
"He's meant the world to me," Joseph said. "He got me started in this game. He taught me as a little kid as much as he could and he's since taught me a lot about life. I've been fortunate to have two very great parents. He and my mom have been very instrumental in helping me grow as a golfer and a person."
Of course, there's a certain amount of pride in becoming the latest in what some records show to be about two dozen African-American members of the PGA Tour, stretching from Charlie Sifford and Pete Brown in the early-1960s to Calvin Peete and Jim Thorpe in the years prior to Woods' emergence.
While others have competed in a few select tournaments or toiled on mini-tours, Bramlett joins an exclusive club that he hopes will only continue to grow in size.
"There are a lot of guys who have come along this road before me and have paved the path so I could be here today," he said. "The Charlie Siffords, the Lee Elders -- so many to name -- what those guys have done to help people like myself make it is extremely important and I will never forget that.
"It's been a long time and the question has been asked a lot when the next one is coming. We finally got another one out there. It will only be a matter of time until there are a lot of us out there."
Whether it's the byproduct of Woods' success or the game becoming more diverse, golf could use this sort of push toward the next generation.
Let's hope Joseph Bramlett is right. Let's hope it doesn't take another 13 years for an African-American to reach the game's highest level.
Check that. On second thought, father knows best.
"As a dad," Marlo Bramlett said, "you hope one day there are 156 players in this field -- end of story. Not there are 156 players and three are African-American, three are of Asian descent and three are Hispanic, because all of these guys just want to view themselves as golfers. Hopefully that day is coming. I think it is."
There's a reason why Joseph has been so heavily influenced by his father over the years. He's a very wise man. When it comes to the game's future, maybe we should all be influenced by Marlo Bramlett.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
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