Otis Ferguson IV has been preparing for this moment since he was about 4 years old. Last month, Howard University announced the addition of the first Division I golf program in the school’s history with the backing and support of NBA superstar Stephen Curry. It had only been a few years prior that school officials told Ferguson and his family that the university would be unable to add a golf team.
Now, because of the senior’s efforts, Howard plans to launch one of the few varsity coed golf teams at an HBCU next year.
“Honestly, for me, this has been a very spiritual experience so far,” he says. “There is supernatural power where preparation meets opportunity. Hopefully, people recognize that, and that’s what this [situation] has shown me. I feel like from an inspirational standpoint, it can be copied and pasted to any situation.”
The love of golf for Ferguson started with his father, Dr. Otis Ferguson III, who has been playing the sport for over 30 years. He instilled his passion for the game in not only his son, Otis, but his three daughters, as well. It became something the whole family could bond over, says Dr. Ferguson’s middle daughter, Ellyce Ferguson. The younger Otis would carry around plastic clubs in the backyard or to the little putting green in the basement with his dad, imitating his every move.
“It really did start with my dad’s love for the game and it just transferred to Otis, and to me,” says Ellyce. “When it’s Father’s Day, it’s something that we’ll do because we know my dad loves that. All six of us will go play golf together.”
By age 6, Otis upgraded to real clubs and was out on the real course, and by 10, he was playing junior golf. As soon as Dr. Ferguson returned home from work and Otis from school, the two would play. They would get together for golf after church every Sunday, as well.
“That was their thing,” says Ellyce. “You couldn’t get them to stop playing golf until there was literally snow on the ground.”
But it wasn’t until middle school where his passion started to blossom. Ferguson would spend his summers with his cousin at the Heathers Club of Bloomfield in Michigan, near where he grew up.
“Our parents would drop us off there in the morning and we wouldn’t leave until the night,” Ferguson says. “Literally three or four summers in a row. That’s all we did. It was a lot of those summers where I started to enjoy being out on the golf course all day long, or just improving and getting better.”
Not only did Ferguson begin to see a difference in himself, but his family did as well. His sister noticed that he would wake up “at the crack of dawn.”
“I’ve never seen him wake up that early for anything! Otis can sleep, and he’ll sleep hard too,” she says. “When I saw him consistently get up at six, seven in the morning, by himself, no one watching him, to go out and play, I was like, ‘Oh, he loves this game,’ and he takes it seriously.”
Dr. Ferguson remembers his son qualifying to play in the Optimist Junior World Golf Championship the summer of 2015 before his junior year of high school. The tournament counts Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson among its past winners.
For Ferguson, playing in this high-level capacity was the defining moment, where he knew golf was what he wanted to pursue.
“Qualifying for that tournament and playing in it meant a lot to me because at no point in my golf career have I ever played year-round, or solely played [only] golf,” the 20-year-old says. “I knew that when I’d go these tournaments and play against certain people that, that would be something they’d have on me. When I was able to get my game to that level to play and be in that arena with some of the best in the world, at the time, it made me curious to see where I could get my game if I were to continue playing at the collegiate level, where all I was doing was playing golf.”
But when Ferguson set his sights on Howard University, he had a big decision to make. The choice to attend the illustrious university was one he made from his freshman year in high school after seeing his three older sisters choose Howard for themselves.
It was his legacy, which was once his father’s and other family members before him. But one that meant giving up playing the game he loved the most at the collegiate level. Ferguson received a full-scholarship offer to play golf at Miles College, a private, historically black liberal arts college in Alabama. He went from being 100 percent in on Howard to being split.
His decision to attend Howard felt compromised, but Ferguson’s parents encouraged him to talk to Howard’s athletic director before becoming a student and see if there could be a possibility to form a golf team at Howard. “We were told money was being placed in other sports, so that was it,” Dr. Ferguson says.
Still, the younger Ferguson pushed on. And unbeknownst to him or his family, the university’s athletic department had already thought about adding golf to its roster of sports.
“We’ve always thought that golf would be a terrific sport for Howard to have,” says Howard University athletic director Kery Davis. “That was part of our strategy. It’s something we’ve talked about for a long time, but however, we just didn’t have resources, and we couldn’t drop another sport in order to have it, for various reasons. So when this opportunity came up, it was an amazing opportunity for us as well.”
In January, Ferguson caught the attention of Curry, who was in town for the screening of “Emanuel.”
“Hey Steph, let’s get in a round of golf before you leave!” he shouted to the two-time NBA MVP.
Although they didn’t get out on the green that day, Ferguson recalls that Curry gave him his email after he shared the story of how he attempted to start a golf team at Howard. He reached out to Curry after the event, but two or three months passed before Ferguson heard anything.
His faith never wavered, says Ellyce.
“He continued to say, ‘This is happening. I’m going to keep following up.’ He sent a lot of follow-up emails,” she remembers. “He doesn’t want to just make it seem like it just happened.”
And on August 19 after hearing back from Curry and months of behind-the-scenes work, Howard announced that Curry and his team would make a seven-figure donation paid out over the next six years to help build and cultivate a Division I golf program at the university—the first of its kind at the school.
“It’s amazing because when you look at how it occurred, you couldn’t draw it up on a piece of paper,” says Dr. Ferguson. “When you look at how God does things, you could never say, ‘I’m going to do A, B, C, D, E, and F is going to occur.’ [Otis] saw an opportunity, took it, and it blossomed into something. His tenacity and will to continue to push forward was a testimony in the faith that he has.”
His tenacity and vision resulted in a historic moment for Howard University and the black golf community in D.C.
“[I was] someone who was willing to challenge an answer that was given to me when it wasn’t the answer I wasn’t looking for,” Ferguson says. “That’s one of the main things I learned at Howard, the idea that ‘no’ doesn’t always mean ‘no.’”