EAST GREENSBORO – It is February, a time when Cupid is at his busiest, and the best basketball players in the world gather together in an American city for the annual National Basketball Association (N(BA)) All-Star Game.
It is at this time a meeting Richard Watkins calls a meeting.
“There is a zoom meeting a 3 o’clock.” Those were the words uttered by Watkins, North Carolina A&T’s men’s and women’s golf coach, to A&T sophomore women’s golfer Jayla Rogers.
In the world of COVID, zoom meetings are ordinary, so no need for suspicion there. But Rogers was on her way to practice, so a preemptive zoom meeting did seem strange. Yet, Rogers set her schedule to make the zoom meeting.
As it turns out, the zoom meeting had nothing to do with A&T women’s golf. Instead, the zoom call included officials from the N(BA) and Mountain Dew. “We have news for you,” said one official.
We want to award you a $50,000 scholarship were the following words uttered. Rogers and Prairie View A&M track and field athlete Zachary Moseley received the scholarships leading up to the N(BA) All-Star Game in Charlotte.
The awarded scholarships given to Rogers and Moseley enacted another part of the N(BA) and Mountain Dew’s initiative to support historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs). Unfortunately, COVID did not allow the two HBCU student-athletes to attend the game at Bojangle’s Arena. But they did receive two virtual tickets.
Rogers has various plans for her scholarship. She plans to attend graduate school after her time at A&T. She likes sports medicine and fitness management. She also has an affinity for communications. She sees room in her life for both.
“I think it would be awesome to do it all,” said Rogers. “I want to work for the Golf Channel. I love talking about golf. I also want to teach our youth.”
Rogers wants to help the youth navigate their journey toward college and have an easier time than she did. Rogers’ grandfather introduced her to the sport of golf. One day as he babysat his young granddaughter, he decided to put a driver in her hand. Thus started the love she has for golf.
The First Tee organization then became a big part of Rogers’ life. First Tee is an international youth development organization introducing golf and its inherent values to youth and teens. Through after-school and in-school programs, they help shape the lives of young people from all walks of life by reinforcing values like integrity, respect, and perseverance through the game of golf.
She started out playing golf for First Tee of Brunswick County, which later changed its name to First Tee of the Coastal Carolinas. First Tee offered Rogers the opportunity to play with golfing legend Davis Love III at Pebble Beach in California. First Tee also provided her the opportunity to caddy for 2012 U.S. Open champion Web Simpson at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Golf Channel televised both events. But as an African American female playing a primarily white sport, playing golf has not always been an easy task for Rogers.
“Walking down the fairway, you notice the sport is predominately white,” said Rogers. “I often got that look like, ‘what are you doing here?’ When I get that look, when you get that feeling, you have to believe you deserve to be there as much as anyone else. You’ve worked just as hard to get there. I want to prove I was made for this sport as well. They should treat us equally because it is a sport at the end of the day.”
The perseverance Rogers showed throughout her youth and teenage years eventually led to her capturing the attention of college golf coaches. One golf coach, in particular, was named Richard Watkins. Watkins reached out to Rogers during her sophomore year in high school.
“As soon as it was okay for me to start talking to her, we pursued her,” said Watkins. “She has a great family. I liked her personality. I liked her work ethic. She had great high school grades. I also liked her high school golf scores.”
Rogers said she chose A&T because of Watkins and because A&T seemed like family to her.
“He has so much energy,” Rogers said about Watkins. “Whenever I’m playing bad, I call him over, and he kind of snaps me back to reality. He tells me I was born to do this. This is what you do. You were made for golf. He gives me a little pep talk, and I’m good.”
Rogers arrived in Aggieland in 2019. Rogers played her first collegiate tournament on Sept. 23, 2019, at Phoenix Invitational hosted by Elon University. Her best showing of the season was a fourth-place finish at the Savannah State University Tiger Fall Invitational, where she shot a 13-over 157. Unfortunately, her freshman season ended after a March 12-13 tournament hosted by Bethune-Cookman because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She also had to play a shortened sophomore season. But as the nation breaks free from COVID restrictions, Rogers wants to continue to embrace the game she has always loved fully.
“I want to incorporate the life skills and the life lessons that the First Tee taught me over the years,” said Rogers. “I also want to tell my story about how golf wasn’t easy for me growing up as an African American. I didn’t let that deter me from my goals. I got a Division I scholarship at A&T. I want to be able to take that and help others obtain their goals.”
There is a specific question Watkins asks all of his recruits. Do you love golf? He helps decipher who is serious about the game. Sometimes he gets answers of “um” or a “well um,” or some may even pontificate.
Jayla said yes, immediately.
“Jayla loves playing golf,” said Watkins. “She is a golfer. Jayla, at 30, will be playing golf. Jayla, at 35, will be playing golf. At 50, she will be playing golf. You’ve got to love this stuff. You have to practice when we practice. You have to practice when we don’t practice. She is the kind of person who calls me on the days off and asks me if we can play.”
When Watkins heard about her scholarship, he said he was extremely excited. However, he warns that could be more honors to come from his women’s golf team.
“Our women’s golf team just has some outstanding young ladies on it,” said Watkins. “Our women’s golf team is loaded with outstanding young ladies.”