TULSA, Okla. -- Stanford’s Mariah Stackhouse is equipped with the caliber of game most golfers would mortgage valuables for.
Yet all that serious talent doesn’t weigh her down on the course.“When I’m walking up and down the fairway, there’s always a song in my head,” Stackhouse, whose Cardinal team is battling in the NCAA Division I women’s golf finals this week at Tulsa Country Club, said.
The song in her head usually comes from the rap artist Drake, Stackhouse’’s current favorite musician. She promises she’s “definitely kind of the cool-calm-collected” type. But when her Stanford teammates need revving up, they know who can do it.
“They’ll tell you, ‘Mariah’s the person who knows all the rap songs,’” Stackhouse said. “That’s my thing. I can rap -- get going. So I guess I’m hyped.” She paused to laugh. “I’m not that talented, but I can memorize all the words. So that’s how I entertain the team.”
Stackhouse’s barrier-breaker status doesn’t weigh her down, either. A petite sophomore from Riverdale, Georgia, tends to be one of the few African-American golfers in most tournaments the Cardinal play, but she views the distinction as a positive.
Sometimes, it brings serious history.
As the first African-American player to be named to a U.S. Golf Association Curtis Cup team, Stackhouse will be part of the eight-member squad that competes in the 2014 Curtis Cup match against Great Britain and Ireland on June 6-8 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Yeah, she’s psyched.
“If you play amateur golf, that’s got to be the biggest goal that you have,” she said. “You play all these tournaments, you have the USGA championships, but to make it onto the Curtis Cup team means that you’re there every week, you’re playing and you’re competitive, and it’s the pinnacle of amateur golf. So I’m really happy that I get the opportunity to play on the team.”
The NCAA Division I finals come first, and Stackhouse knows how to focus. No. 4 Stanford was 14th after Thursday’s third round. Stackhouse’s teammate, fellow sophomore Lauren Kim, was in a three-way tie for third in the individual standings while Stackhouse was in an eight-way tie for 27th.
“Lauren and I came in together,” Stackhouse said. “She’s the other sophomore. She’s got my back on everything and we stick together. So she’s definitely my close-personal person on the team because we’ll start and finish together.”
“They’re very close,” Stanford head coach Anne Walker said. “It’s neat. We have a really close-knit team in general but those two, they’re leading our program. They led it last year, they’re doing it this year and they have a great relationship -- push each other and support each other.”
On the course, Stackhouse’s career thus far reflects her personal arsenal: two victories and All-American honors as a freshman, and All-Pac 12 honors as a freshman and sophomore. The round of 61 she shot as a freshman at the Peg Barnard Invitational broke both Stanford’s home-course record and the NCAA record (yes, she won the tournament). She also owns three Georgia 4-A high school titles and multiple state amateur honors.
“Just her demeanor and her poise,” Walker said of Stackhouse’s intangibles. “She’ s really mature for her age. She gets it, and when I say she gets it, she gets it on all fronts. She understands media. She understands when you’re meeting people. how to treat people even when you don’t feel like it.
“She understands that’s part of the role you play, especially in her position. And on the golf course, she makes really wise decisions. She’s good about hitting a 3-wood when it’s necessary or laying up when it’s smarter.”
Stackhouse says she’s comfortable as the only female African-American golfer on a course, preferring to focus first on performance, then being a positive influence.
“[Being a barrier-breaker] is never something that I strive for and I say I want to be the best golfer I can be,” she said. “One day I want to be the best. And because of how few African-Americans that have been in women’s golf, that success is going to be barrier-breaking, but at the same time that is something that I embrace.”
She does it in fun ways, by interacting with parents who follow her on social media to ask advice for their daughters, and by acknowledging the African-American girls and young women who show up at Stanford’s conference and NCAA tournaments to watch her play.
“I always try to talk to them,” Stackhouse said.
Her parents, Ken and Sharon Stackhouse, get the credit for their daughter’s introduction to golf and the grounding of her success.
“Growing up, I was always a daddy’s girl,” Stackhouse said. “And I went everywhere my dad went. So after work, and always on the weekends, he would go play recreational golf by himself or with some of his buddies, so he let me tag along because I wasn’t not going to be where he was going. So he cut me down some clubs and I started playing, and around (age) five or six is when I started playing some kiddie tournaments. That’s how I got my start.”
“She’s grown up with parents who are great role models for her, and they’ve talked a lot about race growing up, is what I’ve gotten from it,” Walker said. “Where you want to be known for being great at what you do, and not because of your race. And I think her parents have kept her focused on that, and that’s important.”
So has former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has emerged as a mentor in Palo Alto, where she teaches political economy in Stanford’s graduate business school. Per Walker, Rice echoes the foundation laid by Stackhouse’s mom and dad.
“Dr. Rice is very much the same way,” Walker said. “When she receives questions about race or being a female in the position that she’s been in, she feels the same way — she really wants to focus on being great at what she does. So actually, Dr. Rice has become a great role model at this next level, kind of picked up where her parents left off.”
Stackhouse plans to play four years at Stanford and complete a communications degree before attempting the LPGA Tour. She knows the potential implications of a professional career.
“Because you look around, and I say it all the time, the LPGA is one of the most diverse sports there is -- women’s golf,” Stackhouse said. “But there’s still not many African-American women involved. I think it would be awesome to be out there and encourage more young girls, encourage them that they can do it too.”