By Callie Lawson-Freeman | Special to the OBSERVER
If they didn’t know it already, golf fans learned Aaron Beverly’s name on Jan. 18 when Tiger Woods tweeted it.
“I’m looking forward to welcoming Aaron Beverly to the Genesis Invitational as the 2022 Sifford Exemption. Like me, Aaron learned the game from his dad,” the 11-time PGA Player of the Year wrote to his 6.5 million followers.
The Sacramento golfer learned of getting the exemption a week before it went public. But he said seeing the tweet pop up on his Apple Watch was the moment things got real.
“I was in the car headed to the gym with a friend,” Beverly told The OBSERVER. “I’ll never forget it.”
Named for the first African American member of the PGA Tour, Woods has awarded the Charlie Sifford exemption annually since 2009. The exemption grants a golfer from an underrepresented community the opportunity to compete at the event. The Genesis Invitational will be broadcast from the Riviera Golf Club in Los Angeles on the Golf Channel and CBS Feb. 17-20.
For Beverly, this professional milestone is the fruition of more than 20 years of hard work.
His parents are the late Ron Beverly, a highly regarded Bay Area football coach, and former dancer Kim Harris. At 3, Aaron was introduced to ballet by his mother and golf by his father, who forbade him from playing football.
Beverly danced for 15 years before setting his sights completely on dominating golf, which he found “more interesting.”
His father, through practices that ran up to five hours, coached him into the pro he is today.
“You kind of think while you’re doing all that, ‘OK this is going to pay off eventually. We’re putting all this time into it. At some point it’s going to pay off,’” Beverly said.
Beverly, a 2017 Sacramento State graduate, is one of that program’s most accomplished golfers. He holds several scoring records despite having redshirted as a sophomore to support his parents, who both had received cancer diagnoses.
He has competed professionally on the Golden State Tour, PGA Tour Latinoamérica, Makenzie Tour, and Canadian Tour. Most recently, he competed on the Advocates Professional Golf Association (APGA) Tour. In November he won the APGA Tour’s Fall Series finale.
But when asked about his proudest moment, Beverly recalled the two times he saw his father cry: after one of his teen performances of “The Nutcracker” and at his Sacramento State University move-in day. “Those two moments stand out, knowing that I was able to do something to make him proud,” Beverly said.
Beverly will have a host of supporters at his PGA Tour debut. In addition to playing professionally, he is a Sacramento State assistant coach and an assistant professional at Valley Hi Country Club in Elk Grove. Some of his young athletes have plans to cheer for him in person.
The 27-year-old admitted that juggling coaching and a professional golf career isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
“It’s something that I love doing and it’s motivating every day to have a positive impact on someone else’s life,” Beverly said.
Beverly also is acutely aware of the barriers contributing to the race disparity in golf.
He was the only Black player on his college team and was jarred by the cost of the game once he graduated.
“My parents aren’t wealthy,” he said. “I’ve worked out on the golf course, on the drive range, as a caddy — different things just to keep the dream alive of playing golf. It’s so expensive, and it takes a lot of different efforts to grow the game. But I think it’s great now, especially with this exemption, kids get a chance to watch TV and see someone who looks, dresses, and talks similar to them.”
Poetically, Beverly now has the opportunity to attract young Black boys to golf the way Woods did for him as a child.
Elementary schoolers Obasi and Zafir Winn started working with Beverly in August. Their father, Dr. Lawrence “Torry” Winn, said Beverly sets an ideal example.
“He’s a person of joy, so our kids love golf because they see that it can be joyful. Through Aaron, our kids get to learn the importance of caring, passion and hard work,” Dr. Winn said, speaking with The OBSERVER after arriving home from a tournament where his sons were the only Black children.
“Valley Hi is a country club and so you have to pay to be a member, but we’re willing to pay for our kids to walk and stand next to greatness at such an early age,” he said. “It means the world to us.”
Beverly does not yet have a sponsor, but that could change after his PGA Tour debut. Beverly said the best advice he has received on coping with such stakes was from Sacramento’s Cameron Champ. Champ, the 2018 Sifford Exemption recipient, has gone on to win on the PGA Tour three times. His advice, Beverly said: “Approach it like it’s any other tournament. The stage is different, but at the end of the day it’s still just golf.”