Skip to main content

For Shasta Averyhardt, Golf Has Become a Sanctuary Again

After a few years away from the game, Averyhardt came back to the LPGA Tour with a focus on balancing the demands of golf with her mental health.

Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.

There have been only a handful of golfers from Flint, Mich., to make it to the professional ranks, and even fewer who have played a LPGA-sanctioned competition. Shasta Averyhardt made that list in 2011 when she earned her LPGA Tour card while being only the fourth African-American woman at the time to earn tour status. A trailblazer in her own right, Averyhardt was just getting started.

Her love for the game started to form around the age of 7, when her father, Greg Averyhardt, would take her to play on the public courses when he got home from work. Even though Flint was mostly a blue-collar municipality, there was still a demographic divide; and that divide was seen on the golf spectrum of who played at private country clubs and who played on the city’s public courses. Even with that distinction, at a young age Averyhardt felt right at home on the fairway. “We had so many golf courses,” she recalls, “and there were always so many kids playing with their parents, learning the game. So that was a very normal environment for me up until middle school and a little bit of high school.”

Flint’s schools are majority Black, and once Averyhardt started junior high her classmates weren’t as accepting of a half-Black and half-Mexican girl participating in the mostly white sport of golf. “That’s not really a popular sport in our community. So, a lot of time I would get comments because they didn’t understand it,” she says. But Averyhardt utilized practice time and tournaments to deal with contretemps, and as her confidence on the course grew so did her skill set. She climbed the amateur rankings board as she raked in tournament wins. “I kind of learned to shut it out. … It was my outlet to be able to be really good at something and believe in myself that I can do something that’s for me and I wasn’t going to let anybody try to deteriorate that,” she says.

Eventually, Averyhardt hit the links with more of her Black peers at an HBCU, Jackson State, where she earned a full athletic golf scholarship and studied business with a concentration in accounting. She accrued nine collegiate tournament wins and four individual SWAC conferences championships. She moved to Florida and decided to turn pro. After some time on the mini tour in Orlando and advancing to the finals in her second time at LPGA Qualifying School, Averyhardt earned her LPGA Tour card in 2011. The buzz around her increased tenfold because of the significance of her race and ethnicity, being Black and Latina. A Black woman hadn’t earned a spot on the LPGA Tour since ’01. Moreover the LPGA had never seen a black golfer who played at an HBCU.

“I think that was probably one of the most emotional moments I’ve had,” Averyhardt says. “I was walking off the green and knowing I was able to accomplish one of my major goals in my life. That made me realize that all the hard work had paid off, and at that moment I knew I wasn’t done. … It meant a lot to me.”

After a couple of years on the professional circuit, Averyhardt stepped away from golf in 2014 to go after a career in business. But just three years away from the sport made her realize she needed to start pursuing golf again. “There was a moment at the ESPNW Summit in Chicago. … I had partnered with one of my friends that retired from LPGA Tour; we were going to do a women’s sports podcast together,” Averyhardt says. “As we sat in the audience listening to all these really impressive female Olympians and athletes, I was sitting there, and I just don’t feel right.” In that atmosphere full of athletic excellence, Averyhardt realized she still had golf left to play. So she took a leap of faith to jump-start her playing career. “I was like ‘I want to play again. I still have it in me. I got to figure out a way to do it, but I know I’m going to go do it.’ If you believe in something, you just got to go. Whether you succeed or fail, it’s going to work out,” she says.

While playing now, Averyhardt’s focus is on trying to stay in the moment, think positive thoughts and visualize. She is an aggressive and powerful competitor and describes herself as such, but even the most casual golfer knows golf is a game of ups and downs and can be discouraging at times. Averyhardt has been focusing on her mental health, due to bouts of stress and anxieties on the course in the past. People often judge athletes on their scores and performance, and that can add up for her. “I kind of get a little too tough on myself after a couple of mistakes in a row. … Golf’s very frustrating, and at times it can be taxing on you,” she says. “Then there are moments where everything is just flowing and it’s just easy.”

Averyhardt credits golf for helping her learn to be more self-reliant and take accountability and ownership over her own goals and achievements. Just like in golf, she knows when it comes to her personal life and business ventures she has to “go out there and make it happen.”

Off the course, Averyhardt dedicates her time by giving back to the community with her speaking engagements with young golfers and helping other HBCU golf programs with the HBCU Golf Alumni Group, where she serves on the board. “Our mission is to provide scholarships for incoming, if not current, HBCU golfers,” Averyhardt says. “Since we all have that experience and we understand sometimes it’s really hard to find those resources. When you play golf on the HBCU level, you need help, and we’re working hard on that.”

Since her return to golf, Averyhardt has built up a myriad of brand partnerships, the most notable being Cobra Puma Golf, for whom she is a brand ambassador and does work on the creative social media, which started in 2021. Averyhardt looks forward to pushing herself on the course and in the weight room—keeping her mental health in mind—while looking to play some events in Europe.

“Golf for me [is] a sanctuary to get away from anything going on and I have so many things that keep me fulfilled and happy for the most part,” Averyhardt says. “I [learned] to separate my self-worth from my performance.”

Nyala Pendergrass is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.