Love of the game keeps Howard University golfer in pursuit of a pro career
Despite lure of other careers, Everett ‘EJ’ Whiten Jr. looks to build on his success with the Bison
When MSNBC offered Howard University golfer Everett “EJ” Whiten Jr. a six-figure job after his senior-year internship, he had a decision to make: accept the lucrative position or return to school.
For some, the answer may seem obvious. But for Whiten the answer wasn’t so simple.
“I just knew that I wanted to pursue golf,” Whiten said. “I had this great opportunity, and I wanted to come back and play for Howard to try and win some more. The goal is to be a professional golfer, so it’s always good to have a plan B but [I] want to stick to plan A and see what we can do.”
His resolve stems from almost having his golf dream taken away from him. Whiten, one of two players who have been a part of Howard’s golf program since its inaugural season in 2020, was originally committed to Hampton University. He spent two years with Hampton’s golf program before it was abruptly cut in June 2020, which left Whiten scrambling the summer before his junior season. He considered staying at Hampton to finish his MBA and forgoing his dream of playing golf before he received the offer that would change everything.
“I got a call from Coach Sam [Puryear], like, the next morning – literally never knew the man, never heard of him, and he called me. He just started talking to me about Howard,” Whiten said. “It’s funny because I remember talking about Hampton versus Howard in golf. We could have a rivalry in golf. And then fast-forward. I get a call from this Coach Sam, saying, ‘Hey, we want to play golf at Howard University.’ It was a reset with golf for me.”
In 2019 Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry agreed to fund Howard’s golf program for six years, igniting the program’s return to Division I golf after a decadeslong hiatus and giving Whiten a new path toward his goal.
Recently, Whiten got the chance to tell Curry what Howard’s program has meant to him.
“I told Steph when I saw him a few weeks ago and broke down the whole story, too. He’s just changing lives, day in and day out,” Whiten said. “This whole [program] has changed my whole perspective, trajectory and what I want to do, just because he started the program here at Howard.”
Since then, Whiten has witnessed the program’s progress, with the men’s program winning its first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship in 2022. For postseason play, athletes from historically Black colleges and universities compete in the PGA Works Collegiate Championship, an annual championship in collegiate golf for student-athletes attending minority-serving institutions such as historically Black colleges and universities. The Bison have won two consecutive PGA Works championships, finishing their season schedule with five top-3 finishes in tournaments.
“I think a lot of people, they kind of see what we’ve done now. They didn’t really see us back when we first started when Coach used to take us to Enterprise [Golf Course] or all these courses where we’d just be practicing for hours,” Whiten said. “The people in the DMV or in Maryland and D.C. that let us come to those nicer courses and let us practice, I’m thankful for them having us out there.
“It’s been a long ride, but Coach [Puryear] always said, ‘Trust the process.’ I think it’s been good to see how far we’ve come, and it’s only going to keep getting better.”
At this year’s championship a strong final round by Whiten helped secure the Bison’s second ring and earned him the men’s medalist award for the lowest combined score. Teammate Greg Odom Jr., who won the medalist award the previous year, is proud to see Whiten’s growth.
“EJ is more than just a teammate – he’s a brother. Sharing life’s journey through every twist and turn, from course grind to personal highs and lows, our bond grows stronger every day,” Odom said. “Watching EJ evolve has been great to witness. He’s leveling up as a man, moving smarter and sharper. His biggest glow-up, I would say, [is] flipping the script on how he tackles life, strategizing moves to conquer his goals to not only become a better golfer but a better person.”
Whiten had an inauspicious start with golf. A native of Chesapeake, Virginia, he spent most of his childhood switching between basketball, baseball and soccer. He didn’t start playing golf formally until age 13, when his childhood friend Josh Africa, who played collegiately at Penn State Harrisburg, encouraged Whiten to consider trying the sport.
“I just like how hard it was, how hard the challenge was and how much of a grind it is. I like to say I’m very athletic. I was always good and decent at everything that I played. Golf definitely humbled me,” Whiten said.
His days as a novice are long behind him. Coach Sam Puryear, who coached golfers during his time at Michigan State and Stanford who have since joined the PGA Tour, has finally seen the shift in his Howard golfers’ mindset: They now believe they, too, can play pro golf.
“If you’ve been blessed [with] God-given talent and you want to trust the process and put the work in, you can make it from anywhere, because I do believe dreams come true,” Puryear said. “We have a bevy of guys on this team, men and women that do have the ability right now to make some real checks down the road in their lives playing [pro] golf.
“I feel like we put together a roster of really good people that have really high hopes and dreams. My goal right now is to try to facilitate [and] be that Robin Hood trying to make these dreams come true. I really want to do that. I want to level that playing field. I really do, because at the end of the day, why not us.”
Whiten earned an exemption to play on the Korn Ferry Tour, a PGA professional developmental tour, after the Bison finished their collegiate season, and the Howard graduate senior participated in two Korn Ferry Tour tournaments. He shot one under par at the BMW Charity Pro-Am in June. At the Pure Cutter Charity Championship in July he shot five below par after two rounds, narrowly missing the cut. He also played at the Knoxville Open in 2022.
“Korn Ferry is the next step to the PGA Tour. So just being able to have that exemption and just get that experience going out there and competing with the guys that are trying to do what you’re trying to do on an everyday basis is huge,” Whiten said.
Whiten’s stints competing on the Korn Ferry Tour have helped him hone his collegiate game. He will decide whether to pursue a pro career at the end of this upcoming season.
“Those three events have already boosted my confidence and I feel like I have more and more experience. So just going into the season, I’m just trying to emulate the same thing, learn and don’t force it,” he said. “Golf is not going to have perfect days every day, so you just got to take what you get and learn from each round.”
Why Not Us: Howard Golf, the fourth season of the acclaimed Why Not Us series from Andscape, FILM 45 and ESPN+ Originals, premieres Monday, with episodes 1 through 4 airing on ESPNU and available to stream on ESPN+ immediately following the debut. Why Not Us: Howard Golf will debut its eight episodes over three weeks on ESPNU, with episodes 3-6, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. ET and episodes 5-8 at 7 p.m. Sept. 4 ET.