When Sarah Godfrey-Singleton was in the seventh grade, she shot an 80 in an event at Niagara Falls Country Club. Later, she ran into Steve Latimer, the women’s golf coach at Niagara University. Latimer said she had beaten one of his top recruits and told Sarah she had a nice future in the game.
Godfrey-Singleton, now a junior at Depew High, has done pretty well for herself. Last month, she finished two shots behind five-time champ Chelsea Dantonio in the Section VI championships. This weekend, she’ll play in the state tournament at Delhi, where she finished ninth a year ago.
Oh, and last weekend Godfrey-Singleton was back at Niagara Falls CC, competing in the second Women’s Porter Cup. Playing mainly against older competitors from around the globe and from some of the nation’s top college programs, she finished 49th, closing with a 73 after rounds of 81 and 80.
“The very first day I was so nervous,” she said. “Seven on the first hole, with a shank. I was already looking at the pin before I ever hit the ball.”
The nerves were understandable. She was the first female from the Buffalo Inter-City Golf program to play in such a prestigious event. Her coach, Jim Horne, was there. So were some of the younger kids from BIG, which has been helping Western New York kids develop life skills through golf for 22 years.
Simply having a player in the Porter Cup was a triumph for BIG, the brainchild of Buffalo native Randy Edwards. Godfrey-Singleton is no country club kid. She has been getting free lessons for years from Horne, the UB basketball legend who helps aspiring young golfers at the Wehrle Golf Dome in Williamsville.
Godfrey-Singleton is African-American, in a historically white sport. While BIG is not exclusive to race, it has always provided opportunities to minorities in the Buffalo area, operating many of its programs out of Delaware Park, where the late Hank Williams Jr. ran it for years.
“It’s very important for me to be a role model,” said Sarah, who also teaches for BIG. “I don’t even know how to say it. But it means a lot.”
“Since she was 5, people have been walking in here with kids just to see her practice,” Fred Singleton, her father, said Tuesday inside the Wehrle Dome. “I’ve had people on the golf course say, ‘Thank you for bringing your daughter to play golf’.”
Horne, a Buffalo Sports Hall of Famer who held the UB scoring record for more than 40 years, began coaching Godfrey-Singleton when she was 5. He sees the other young golfers look up to her.
“When they come to practice, who do they come over to watch hit the ball?” Horne asked her. “You, right? Because you have the skill that they admire. You are their role model. They want to do what you do. Just look at the five sisters.”
That would be the Warren sisters: Shea, 15; twins Marisa and Camryn, 13; Sierra, 10; and Rory, 8. All are aspiring golfers who idolize Sarah. All are on the front of the registration pamphlet for BIG’s second annual Father’s Day Open on Saturday at Grover Cleveland.
Like Godfrey-Singleton, the Warren sisters are bi-racial. They’re all athletes, but it was only two years ago that they took up golf. They got hooked. Sarah’s skill and engaging personality made it that much easier. She lived up to BIG’s motto: ‘Each one teach one.’
“Sarah has been a great inspiration for the girls,” said Danessia Warren, the girls’ mother. “She’s a role model and a good kid, too.
“Growing up as an African-American, golf wasn’t a sport I saw anyone doing,” said Warren, a Buffalo native. “My kids are in a different situation. My husband is Caucasian, so they saw him golfing. But it’s still not a sport where you see anybody who looks like you.”
Danessia Warren is a self-employed lawyer, though hauling five kids to various sporting events doesn’t leave much time to practice law. Her husband, Chris, is a governmental analyst. She said if not for Horne’s free lessons, they couldn’t afford to have all the girls in golf.
Marisa and Camryn are soccer players who are in the Olympic developmental program. But when the JV coach at Williamsville South asked them to come out for the team, they said they wanted to play golf instead. Both made varsity and started every match as eighth-graders.
The twins came back from the Depew match last fall and said, ‘Mom, mom, we played against Sarah today! Isn’t that amazing?’ ”
It was equally amazing when the Warren girls went to a UB basketball game and saw Horne’s name on a banner in the rafters. How cool was that, finding out their golf instructor was a hoop star, too?
Horne wants kids to reach their potential, regardless of race. “Golf is an individual sport and you can be any size,” he said. “It teaches you about discipline and life. I just want them to have a chance.”
He believes Godfrey-Singleton has a chance to go far in golf. Horne wants her to play at a top college and get a good education. If she sticks at it, he believes she can play on the LPGA Tour.
“I want to get her in a good college where she can play golf,” her father said. “Go to college and see how it materializes.”
Sarah dreams of playing on the LPGA Tour. Her idol is Christina Kim, the flamboyant Korean-American who wrote a book about life on the tour. Sarah wears her hair in ponytails, just like Kim. She has a similarly compact build. They even text on occasion.
But Godfrey-Singleton knows how difficult it is to make it as a pro. She knows the talent that’s out there. Last year, BIG sent her to an international golf camp in Hilton Head, S.C., where she worked on her game and spent time with young golfers from around the world.
From the sound of it, the men in her life might want the golf dream even more than Sarah.
“Um, they all want me to be on the tour,” she said with a grin. “I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian. I love animals. I’d love to play in college. They say I could do both, but we’ll see where college takes me.”
She’s intrigued by the animal sciences program at Cornell, but they don’t have Division I women’s golf. She said she hasn’t narrowed down her choices. She likes Michigan State and said Albany is interested. She’d like to play at a top level, but education is the biggest thing.
That’s what makes Edwards most proud, knowing Godfrey-Singleton has such a mature attitude. When he started BIG, it wasn’t to produce pro golfers, but to help kids mature by learning to make good choices.
“That is exactly what we tell the kids,” Edwards said. “In life, education is your one fallback position. Like defense in basketball, school will always be there for you.”
Whatever choice she makes, Godfrey-Singleton will be a role model for other kids, proof of the possibilities in life. As a female and a minority, she doesn’t take the responsibility lightly.
“It’s a true honor,” she said. “I want to be the best, just so I can show them the way. We teach the kids about responsibility, not just how to swing the clubs. I like teaching kids and everything about golf. Each one teach one. It’s a great program. I just love it.”