As South African pro golfer Louis Oosthuizen completed a dominating victory at the British Open on July 18, some Blacks in that country may have withheld their cheers for the White athlete—until learning that his caddie, Zack Rasego, is a Black native of their country.
Oosthuizen’s win came on the same day that legendary former South Africa President Nelson Mandela celebrated his 92nd birthday, and the image of White and Black South Africans succeeding together is an ultimate reflection of the legacy Mandela helped create during his tenure in office.
In a country once ruled by apartheid, Mandela was one of many activists who helped change South Africa from a racially segregated environment to a land now considered by its residents to be a “rainbow nation.”
“As South Africans, we are a rainbow team,” Rasego told The New York Times. “But really it’s politics aside. It’s a sport. We cannot put politics into sport.”
Rasego told reporters that there is no emphasis on race in his relationship with Oosthuizen, another symbol of how far South Africa has come from its era of racial tensions.
“When I look at Louis, I look at him as a person, and he looks at me as a person,” Rasego said. “It’s not our backgrounds or anything. At the end of the day, he’s my boss, and I respect him as a boss, and it’s not about color. I mean, if I do good, then he appreciates what I do. It’s totally not about color.”
But while Rasego’s relationship with Oosthuizen isn’t about race, his presence as one of the very few Black caddies on the PGA Tour sheds light on the issue in that sport.
Similar to Oosthuizen, golf legend Gary Player—considered the most successful South African golfer in PGA history—also employed a Black caddie. Alfred “Big Rabbit” Dyer was one of the first African-American caddies on the PGA Tour, and served Player during an era when Blacks dominated the caddie industry in the U.S.
But over the last few decades, Black professional caddies have become nearly extinct. According to Rodney “Binx” Watts, an African-American professional golfer from Maryland, the huge decrease in Black caddies is mainly due to the large increase in salary for the job. That increase has generated far more competition for the caddie position than in the past.
“Just think about how much money is made on the PGA tour; the average salary is about $800,000 to $900,000 for a golfer, and they pay their caddie about 10 or 15 percent of their earnings,” Watts told the AFRO.
“But during the days when most caddies were Black, it wasn’t nearly as much money in the game and the caddie position was perceived in a less dignified, demeaning light.”
Watts said far more Whites apply for caddie jobs today because the position can now pay $300,000 or more, and the caddie’s importance in planning a golfer’s approach to a course has increased.
But if there’s more money and respect offered to such a position, why aren’t more Blacks interested in retaking their position as majority? Watts said that touches on an even deeper issue.
“The problem is there aren’t nearly as many golf programs in place that would attract and engage the interest of African-Americans and train and support them while learning the sport,” said Watts, a member of Morgan State University’s 1967 CIAA Golf Championship team.
“I’ve been playing golf for more than 50 years, but when I was coming up, we had golf teams at college, in high school, and at clubs around the neighborhood. Now, most Blacks can’t play golf in public school even if they wanted, because the teams are gone.”