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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Morehouse golf alum provide Maroon Tigers team with memorable Masters experience


Every spring in Augusta, Georgia, the world’s best golfers compete for the right to call themselves The Masters’ champion.

This past weekend’s edition served as a great experience for the Morehouse College golf team to see the best up close and personal at Augusta National Golf Course.

Fittingly, the experience, which included a tournament-long stay in Augusta, was provided by two of the Maroon Tigers’ proudest and most successful golf alumni.

Earl Cooper and Olajuwon Ajanaku, members of the Maroon Tigers’ 2010 PGA Minority Golf Classic championship team, have created and promoted Eastside Golf, a lifestyle brand dedicated to raising awareness and creating opportunities for golfers of color.

Morehouse alums driven by desire to give back

The idea for Eastside Golf started with the Houston-born and Atlanta-raised Ajanaku, who was looking for a way to get back into the game he loved after some time away.

“Earl became a PGA professional, and I became a pro as well. Did that for a couple of years, but it got to the point where I just couldn’t afford it anymore,” Ajanaku explains. “I was in commercial vehicle finance for eight years. One day, I got home and said, ‘This ain’t it. I want to turn pro again.’ I knew it’d be hard to find sponsors, so I created a logo, showed it to Earl, and he said, ‘You need to put that on a t-shirt.’”

Ajanaku did just that, and a trip to downtown Detroit kick-started Eastside Golf.

“I got stopped at least 100 times in two hours; people asked, ‘Who are you?’ ‘Where is that logo from?’ ‘How can I get it?’ ‘Do you play golf?’”

From there, Ajanaku began selling t-shirts, sweatshirts, and other items. Cooper, a native of Delaware, joined him in the official creation of the brand.

eastside golf
Earl Cooper and Olajuwon Ajanaku, members of the Maroon Tigers’ 2010 PGA Minority Golf Classic championship team, have created and promoted Eastside Golf. Image by Jensen Larson for Mercedes-Benz

“It’s been an unbelievable experience and journey, something you don’t take for granted,” Cooper says. “Morehouse, we have some great alumni — Dr. Martin Luther King, Benjamin Elijah Mays — but we need to be the ones who keep the momentum going. We want to build the House up.”

And that was music to the ears of Maroon Tigers golf coach Edgar Evans Jr., who was extremely excited for the current Morehouse team to have that experience.

“I knew that Wednesday was going to be a day that they would remember for the rest of their lives,” Evans, a Southern alum, said of the first day at The Masters tournament. “To be living in history and seeing that was truly something special, seeing their faces as we went down Magnolia Lane and walked the course, and people asked who we were and what team we were with.”

Eastside Golf received crucial help from Mercedes-Benz USA by sponsoring the event. Cooper and Ajanaku connected with Jenell Ross, the only Black woman to own and operate a Mercedes-Benz dealership in the United States.

They also got an added boost from Atlanta mayor Andre Dickens, who turned heads at the 2023 Masters by wearing Eastside Golf apparel head to toe.

“The folks at Mercedes Benz said, ‘Woah. You have to tell us everything you know about Eastside Golf,’” Ajanaku said. “[Mayor Dickens] had nothing but great things to say about me, Earl and Eastside. We got on their radar, and it was a rigorous process, but they’re a great company, and we ended up being the right partners.”

Mercedes Benz took care of transportation, lodging, and meals for the Maroon Tigers, allowing them to enjoy the experience. This included Tiger Woods cutting for the 24th straight time, a tournament record.

“He’s the greatest player to ever live,” Ajanaku said. “He struggled a little bit at the end, but for him to do that on one leg just shows perseverance.”

“You see the work he’s doing out there to get himself ready. I think he played 25 holes on Friday,” Cooper said. “It takes a lot of dedication, and it was great to see him with his son, walking the course. It’s a special moment.”

‘That’s what the HBCU family is all about’

Cooper was thrilled that the Morehouse golf team took it all in.

“They were great in showing gratitude, taking it all in with their eyes wide open. Credit goes to Coach Evans, who’s a great guy,” he said. “To have a good team, you need a good coach, and that’s what they have right now.”

Evans, in turn, appreciated the experience and made a great point about how there are different ways to give back as alumni.

morehouse at masters
Image by Jensen Larson for Mercedes-Benz

“Even if you don’t have the monetary resources, you can give your time to your school. You could mentor a student – all of these things are important,” he said.

“Someone may have some small experience they didn’t like, but you have to realize if you’re not part of the solution, then the school can never live up to what it’s meant to be. Our schools are worth fighting for; they’re worth building and giving our all to make them better.”

And Ajanaku and Cooper hope this will start a wave of younger alumni giving back to their schools, helping them be the best versions of themselves.

“The opportunity to give back to the younger Olajuwons and Earls, that’s what the HBCU family is all about,” Ajanaku said. “Be the best you can be, so like Earl said, you build the house up for those who are coming behind you.”

“You don’t have to be the best golfer in the world to make an impact,” Cooper adds. “If you don’t reach the highest level, some people will feel like they’ve failed. I don’t subscribe to that. There’s so much you can do. Continue to think outside of the box and give back because that’s going to make a difference. It’s only going to make our alma mater stronger.”

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