Golf is in his blood. His grandfather, along with eight great uncles, played golf for more than 40 years. So, it didn’t take long for golf to become a passion for McArthur High School (McA) graduate Derrius Gillis.
During his time at McA, Derrius, 17, won ﬁrst place in districts three times, ranked in the top ﬁve in regionals four times, and had it not been for the pandemic, would be representing Florida at Australia’s Down Under golf tournament this summer.
“My grandfather was my very ﬁrst coach and he and my great uncles were my inspiration to play,” Derrius said. “My ﬁrst experience was when my grandfather took me to Orangebrook Golf Camp & Country Club in Hollywood. He let me hit a few balls on the driving range, I must have been 7 or 8 years old. This was my ﬁrst ofﬁcial trip for me to play. It was a lot of fun, and soon it became our thing.”
“He chose golf as his primary sport during a time in his life when most black boys were playing basketball and football. Golf has made him more conﬁdent, more determined, and more focused,” Avery Warren-Coleman, Derrius’ mother, said.
While perfecting his craft, Derrius also confronted the challenges of being a black golfer in a predominantly White sport.
PREJUDICE AS FUEL
“As an African-American male in golf, there is a level of historical prejudices that I have been faced with,” Derrius said. “I know there are people that often underestimate my ability to play, my competence of the game, and my overall ability to carry myself as a gentleman golfer. I have had spectators make comments that I shouldn’t be allowed to play or that I shouldn’t be here. I have checked in to begin a tournament and the registrar would explain rules that were not explained to other players. “ “I do get angry, I feel confused, but it also serves as fuel. I use the ignorance of some to push me to work harder, stay focused, and do better. I let my game speak for me.”
His game caught the eye of pro golfer Randy Mullen, the head golf professional at Davie Golf course, who started coaching Derrius after seeing what he called a “natural swing.”
“When I saw him I thought, wow, this could be the next generation Tiger Woods. He had a mindset that you don’t normally see in a 9-year-old, very consistent and focused. I even made a video of his swing. That’s how it all started,” Mullen said.
By age 10 Derrius was playing in tournaments throughout South Florida, including the South Florida Junior PGA.
“When I played in the South Florida Junior PGA I was nervous and excited,” he said. “The ﬁrst day of the tournament I played great and the next I played horribly. That day my grandfather said, ‘You are not playing against another person, you are playing against yourself and the course. If you are not focused and prepared, there is no one there to help you, but you.’ Those words stick with me at every tournament and every game.”
FOR A LIFETIME
Derrius earned a golf scholarship to attend Hampton University in Hampton, VA, one of the nations top HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). His dream is to instill his love of golf into other black athletes.
“Seeing black men on the course and being a part of a new generation of black golfers, inspires me to want to give back to my community and the generations that will come behind me,” Derrius said. “I want other brown and black people to learn the love of the game and know that they have a right to be there as much as anyone else.”