U.S. Open offers Pathways diverse interns a glimpse of the future

If a pro career doesn’t happen, Hailey Borja, a University of Michigan golfer from Lake Forest, wants to help host major sporting events.

“Just what it takes to put it all together, I think the operations part is really interesting,” said Borja, 21, a senior sports management major who’s competed in eight United States Golf Assn. championships and finished 12th in the 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

Robert Davalos, a substitute teacher and recreational golfer from Downey who also wants a career in sports management, was thrilled to finally go inside the exclusive Los Angeles Country Club.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, and driving by there, I’ve always wondered what’s on the other end of those hedges,” said Davalos, a 28-year-old graduate student at Cal State Long Beach.

They are among 20 students participating in the Pathways Internship Program at the U.S. Open at LACC. The United States Golf Assn. launched the initiative last year as a golfing career training opportunity for young people from underrepresented communities.

The game of golf employs 1.6 million people in the U.S., with wages and benefits earned totaling more than $80 billion, according to the American Golf Industry Coalition. However, few people from communities of color hold any of those jobs.

The Pathways interns shadow USGA staff across tournament functions such as broadcasting, communications, corporate hospitality, merchandising, course setup and operations. They also visit high-profile venues across Los Angeles to see how major events happen, meet local sports executives and enhance their professional development and personal branding skills.

Half of the Pathways interns are from or attend college in Southern California.

Abigale Morris, 19, of Phoenix, is a sophomore on the golf team and pursuing a degree in cinema and media arts at Biola University in La Mirada. While noting that “it was really cool” to see pros such as Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and others up close during practice rounds at LACC, Morris said Pathways is helping her to learn golf’s business side.

“I would love to continue to work in golf, post college, so I thought it’d be a great opportunity to see what I like, and if that’s something I really want to do,” she said.

Maleyna Gregorio, a 19-year-old sophomore on the golf team at UC Riverside, almost had to give up the sport after being diagnosed with photodermatitis — a severe skin burn resulting from too much sunlight exposure — in middle school in Coachella Valley.

“I’m very passionate about growing the world and women’s sports, so I really want to contribute to making more of an impact toward more equality and closing that gap of inequality,” said Gregorio, who’s majoring in business administration. “And so hopefully, that’s something that I get to work on [through golf] and be a part of the positive impact moving forward.”

A former high school golf team captain in Chino Hills, Loren Sullivan runs her own production company while majoring in mass communication at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La. Sullivan said Pathways is exposing her to so much she didn’t know before.

Referring, for example, to a Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission presentation on how Los Angeles bids against other cities for mammoth sporting events, she said: “I had no clue about that. I thought the Olympics called and said, ‘Hey, we want to come here, and call it a day.’ But learning about all the different opportunities in the actual sports world is amazing.”

All of the interns have Morris Thomas as a role model. After earning a master’s degree in sports management from the University of San Francisco, Thomas, 31, parlayed the connections he made as part of the inaugural Pathways class into his position as USGA‘s assistant manager for diversity, equity and inclusion, culture and community.

A Stockton native who previously worked with the Stockton Kings of the NBA’s G League and the state Department of Health Care Services, he’s been living in Los Angeles while executing his first primary USGA assignment: helping to coordinate the 2023 Pathways program.

“It’s not anywhere I thought I’d be,” Thomas, who will soon relocate to New Jersey, where the association is based, told the interns this week. “But I think those blessings in disguise are one of the biggest blessings of all. So I really recommend taking advantage of this time.”

Herbert Lowe is a Times visiting academic fellow and senior lecturer at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.