'Never can let down Pops': Howard's Greg Odom Jr. wins individual title at PGA Works days after father died
Days after the death of his father, Greg Odom Jr., won the first trophy for Howard University since Steph Curry revived the golf (...)
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – As Greg Odom Jr. waited for the final round of the PGA Works Collegiate Championship to get underway, he danced a joyous boogie to Pooh Shiesty as if no one was watching.
Odom’s good cheer disguised the hurt underneath.
“Not another player in this field carried a more heavy heart than this kid,” said Howard University men’s and women’s golf coach Sam Puryear Jr.
That’s because Odom’s father, Greg Sr., 67, had died on May 1, back home in Memphis. Odom played on, shooting a final-round 2-over 74 at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, finishing his week at 4-over 220 and winning medalist honors as well as his first collegiate title. It also earned the first trophy for Howard since NBA star Steph Curry breathed life into the school’s golf program 13 months ago.
“I knew my dad wanted me to go out there and ball out,” Odom said. “Never can let down pops.”
It was ‘Pops’ who introduced Odom to the game at age 4 and took him to Irene Golf and Country in Memphis until kidney problems prevented him from playing. He endured a transplant and lived to see his son take to the game, but his health issues grew worse during COVID-19 and he was placed into hospice on Friday. On Saturday, Odom’s mother phoned Puryear, who broke the news to his team’s star.
“He wrapped his arms around me and told me everything would be OK,” Odom said.
Puryear was hired last April, not long after Curry’s foundation, Eat. Learn. Play., committed to support the establishment of the university’s first NCAA Division I golf program for six years. Odom, a 20-year-old junior who transferred from the University of Memphis, was Puryear’s first recruit. Not long after accepting the job, he called one of his Tennessee State University fraternity brothers who lived in Memphis and had been a principal at a school Odom attended and asked for the lowdown on the promising young player.
“He said, ‘That’s your guy,” Puryear said. “He said, ‘He was you when you were in college. You might be the only man who can handle him.’ ”
Puryear sold Odom on his track record, telling him to look at his resume, that everywhere he’d coaches he’d helped students improve and become winners.
“He trusted me,” Puryear said. “Once I had him on the hook to come, I knew I would be able to do something special. He was my lion. You’ve got to have a king of the jungle.”
But Pete Dye’s house of horrors is no place to play when the mind is fragile, especially on a day when the winds were whipping more than 20 miles per hour. Odom impressed his coach with his inner strength, but it came as no surprise.
“I saw this coming to fruition. I knew this was going to happen. He walked out of this room after his father passed and said, I’m going to win this event.’ That’s what he said. How many people can do that?” Puryear said, wiping fresh tears from his eyes after the round. “I’ve coached for a long time and I’ve never felt what I feel right now for a win for a kid after what he just went through.”