For the guys on the Haskell Indian Nations University golf team, their love of the game has helped them form a brotherhood.
“We’re just all kind of homegrown,” said Deryk Speck, a Seminole/Creek, who won the Ottawa University Invitational during the fall schedule. “So, when you see these kids that can afford lessons and have the best equipment, it gives us a competitive fire to show them, as Indians, we can do anything they can do.”
Skyler Allen, Cherokee, is a redshirt freshman, but he knows that he is a part of something special at Haskell.
“Our team is a brotherhood. Being an all-Native school, we’re a lot closer than others,” he told ICTMN. “One of our motto’s is ‘Many Nations, one goal.’ It’s not all about being the best athlete, but growing as a family and showing people what we’re capable of.”
“I think our kids come from a unique background in that they haven’t been playing as long as the guys they compete against,” said Haskell golf coach Gary Tanner, who is in his fourth season after 16 years as the Fighting Indians head football coach. “They play more for the love of the game, but they can play.”
Notah Begay III, played in the Cardinal NCAA National Championships and became the first Native American on the PGA Tour. He might have four tour wins, but it was Tiger Woods that captured the attention of America’s youth, even the Indian kids.
“I was primarily a Tiger guy at first,” said Speck, who has been playing junior golf since fourth grade. “But I really look up to my dad [Mark] because he’s the one who taught me everything I know. I’m pretty much self-taught, but dad’s always been there, and really helped me with the mental part.”
Cliff Whittington, 24, grew up in Kansas, Oklahoma. He’s a little older than the other players on the team, but he agreed, Tiger is the guy who sparked his interest.
“I grew up watching Tiger. I was a kid when he won his first Masters. I’m amazed at what he did and got to the point where, I wanted to try anything and everything to be one- quarter of that good,” Whittington said.
Josh Little Axe, Absentee Shawnee, is the only senior on the team. William Wilson and Whittington are juniors. Other than Speck, who’s a sophomore, the rest of the team is all freshmen.
The Fighting Indians play in the highly competitive Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference. Renior Knox of Oklahoma Wesleyan junior varsity shot 70-72 for a two-day total of 142 to earn the medallist honors at the Ottawa Spring Invitational earlier in March. Wilson was eighth and Little Axe finished in a tie for 12th to lead Haskell.
Wilson, Cherokee, has the most golf experience. He started playing in the South Central Section Junior PGA when he was 12. He played two years at Coffeyville Community College before coming to Haskell. The Fighting Indians’ No. 1 player is also self-taught, but plays to a 4 handicap. He grew up admiring John Daly’s big swing.
“I used to have a really bad over swing like Daly. I’ve hit myself on the leg on the back swing with the club head before,” Wilson said with a laugh. “I don’t really have an Indian role model from a golf standpoint. My dad was my biggest role model growing up. We lived out in the country and we’d hit golf balls at hay bales in the pasture.”
Wilson’s been playing competitive golf since the age of 12, but said that playing for Haskell is a new experience.
“It’s like we get to represent our tribe each time we play,” said Wilson, who grew up in Nowata, Oklahoma. “We represent the native population in general and prove that we can play too.”