Taneka Mackey, the only Black full-time caddie in the LPGA, wants golf to be more inclusive

For 27-year-old Taneka Mackey, the scariest day of her life happened on Nov. 1, 2018. She was doing her usual run around her neighborhood when she said she blacked out. Neighbors later told her that they had found her seizing on the side of the road, foaming at the mouth.

The professional golf caddie was officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in February 2019. MS is a chronic disease of the central nervous system. Nearly 1 million people over the age of 18 in the U.S. have been diagnosed with MS.

“My biggest thing was that I wanted to caddie,” Mackey told In The Know. “I wanted to work on the golf course. And literally two weeks after my official diagnosis was given, I was on a flight to Australia because I wanted to work, and nothing was going to stop me.”

Mackey is the only person from the Bahamas and the only Black full-time caddie on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour. She caddies for player Amy Olson, who had a memorable finish at the U.S. Women’s Open in December.

When a typical person thinks of golf, it’s natural to think of rich, white men. In 2018, the Professional Golf Association (PGA) of America admitted that diversity remained the sport’s “biggest challenge.”

During the PGA Championship that year, Tiger Woods was still the sole Black player out of 156 men on the course. He was also one of fewer than 20 Asian players on the field.

Growing up in the Bahamas, Mackey told ESPN that people made fun of her for playing “a white person’s sport or a rich person’s sport.”

Mackey grew up sharing a room with her two siblings and both of her parents for years — money was out of the question. But her dad saved up and bought her a set of golf clubs for $150 when she was 18 years old.

“I did find myself questioning, ‘Do I deserve to be out here? I don’t have the money to be out here,'” she said. “Being the only Black female caddie out there, it made me stand out even more.”

Being diagnosed with MS almost felt like another strike against Mackey in the golf world, but she said there was no way she was going to stop playing. If she hadn’t had her seizure, she would’ve already been on the golf tour, but her story wouldn’t have caught the attention it did.

As Mackey caddies on international TV, she always wears the Bahamas flag on her jackets. It’s a reminder to her to never forget where she came from and a message for people of color all over the world to see that she made it.

“I hope I can be that light to open eyes for other people, especially people of color and people from the Caribbean,” she said. “Because I made it, they can make it also.”

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