Sadena Parks On Her Experiences As A Minority In The LPGA

Sadena Parks poses for ESPN The Magazine's 2015 Body Issue.

For more from the 2015 Body Issue, check out espn.com/bodyissue! And pick up a copy on newsstands starting July 10.

I want to be the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world. And I don't want to be there for the blink of an eye; I want to be there for years. I want to maintain that.

Golf didn't come easily to me. And that's what attracted me to it. I was really, really good at basketball and track. But it's difficult to work on that when you're just made for that. Golf gave me something to work on, it gave me something to live for. I enjoy the struggle; I feed off the struggle.

My dad didn't believe in baby-sitting, so he would take me to the range. I was an only child and he was a single parent, and he loved spending time with me. He saw my swing and saw my dedication, so he got me my own set from, I think, Kmart. I was 9 when I started going to the range. [Three] years later, I started playing competitively in junior tournaments.

In my first tournament, I finished dead last and cried my butt off. I worked so hard, and to see it kind of crumble through nine holes, it was devastating. Who doesn't like to win?

In my second tournament, I finished dead last too. I'm a quick learner, but I'm a very slow starter. My dad taught me that nothing comes easy, though. You might not be that player who automatically just starts at the top and things come to them; you are the type of person that has to start from the bottom and work your way up. But gosh, believe me, it's so frustrating seeing how much effort you put into something and not to see the results right away.

The farthest I've driven a ball was 320 yards. That's pretty long. For me, I think that's pretty darn cool. That's something to brag about right there.

Once I started playing competitively, I started noticing my surroundings, and I did not relate to anyone. I grew up playing basketball and track, and there were lots of minorities doing those things, so it made me feel at home. In golf, I felt like I was out there alone, that it was just me and my father out there trying something new and making the best out of it.

"You guys can't play golf." I'm just going to say "you guys" because the word that this Caucasian gentleman used was so hurtful, so historic that it brought tears to my eyes at the age of 13. And my dad said, "This is the reason we work as hard as we do, because we want to change things. We want to show that, no matter who you are, you should not be treated the way that we were just treated."

My skin color doesn't give me a good excuse to say "I'm not capable." Of course I had moments of doubt, but now I feel really comfortable [playing golf]. I know what my purpose is, and that's what drives me. My purpose is to bring a lot more people into the game -- to drive kids to understand how this game relates so much to your growth as a human being.

The other girls did not like me. When I started to beat them on the junior tour, some of the parents would give my dad crap or accuse us of cheating, of writing down the wrong scores. It got to the point where parents were following me and jotting down my scores to make sure that I wasn't cheating. And those are distractions that no one -- I don't care if you're an adult or a kid -- no one should have to worry about.

The thing that sucks is that my father is in Alaska. He's in Juneau and I'm here in Arizona. He understands what I've been through and he could help me through everything. But this is me growing as a human being. This is me growing as an adult.

I'm not a gym rat. I don't want to be obsessed with it. I've been there -- where I love working out, and I lift so many weights that my body gets so tense to where I can hardly swing because my flexibility is gone. You have to realize the muscles you're using in your swing; you have to work them out in your workout as well.

I have a butt that is larger than I want it to be. I know it gives me power in my swing, but everybody is like "You've got a nice butt!" I'm like "Well thank you, but you can have it if you want it. I'll give it to you, it's all yours."

For 5-foot-3, I got hops. I can touch the backboard. I grew up on basketball. That was my love. I wanted to play for Duke; I wanted to play in the NBA.

Being an only child and just growing up with my father, I didn't know what girls did with makeup or hairstyles. I grew up just kind of being the person that I am and accepting myself for who I am. I didn't even realize there was a certain way that girls acted and boys acted. So now as I'm growing as a young woman and I see all the stuff that we have to do [laughs] ... I feel like it's just crazy.

I think my weakness is that I get in my own way. I see what I want to accomplish, and I want to accomplish it tomorrow. My brain is working so hard to figure out why I'm working my tail off and getting bad results, it turns into a panic attack. It usually happens in the middle of the night, when I'm alone lying down -- with way too much time to think. I'm a thinker. Oh my gosh, I tire myself out.

I'm not making any cuts right now. [Editor's note: Following this interview, Parks made the cut at the Women's PGA Championship on June 14.] And when you aren't making cuts, you're putting in a lot of money for travel and you aren't getting anything in return. But it's not about the money. I've made it with nothing. It's about accomplishing that goal. Whether you have money or no money, going for your goal is still in play.

I guess you could see me as someone that's growing, someone who is maturing and learning their way around the ropes and through the tour, but more importantly as a person. I think that sums it up.

This is an online exclusive story from ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2015. The Body Issue hits newsstands July 10. Subscribe today!

Peter Hapak

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