During this work-from-home time, millions of people have gazed in wide-eyed wonder at the ease and efficiency of Microsoft Teams. From the Brady Bunch-style video meetings, to document sharing, to online chats in an intimate work setting, the Teams platform has been an awakening to many business leaders, one that will likely revolutionize teleworking long after this latest pandemic is dumped into the biowaste-basket of history.
But here’s something you don’t know: one of the people who helped create Microsoft Teams is also an LPGA Professional.
Ashaunta Epps, from Charlotte, North Carolina, has spent years as an IT professional, innovating, creating and matriculating through the business world at the world’s leading software company. But she is much more than a successful technology engineer. Epps is also an instructor for the LPGA Leadership Academy, an instructor for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship clinics, a member of the African American Golfers Halls of Fame, an LPGA*USGA Girls’ Golf Site Director and the founder and CEO of a foundation called A Perfect Swing, which teaches people how to use golf as a tool to advance in the business world.
“I didn’t grow up playing golf,” Epps said. “I started playing golf as a business professional and a manager in corporate America so I could be involved in the conversation.
“Initially, I wasn’t sure I could play golf. I had a childhood injury to my hip. I was very grateful to learn that I could play golf. As I began to play and play well, I realized that after I learned (because of my injury) that I couldn’t play basketball anymore, it was devastating but had I been introduced to golf at that time, a lot of the anger and self-doubt that I felt as a child might not have been there.
“What I realized is that when you have people who have something that they love that they can no longer do, it’s big hit to their self-esteem. What if we made golf a viable option to those people?”
Epps found that there was a hunger, not necessarily for golf but for the affirmation and social entrees golf provides, especially in the African American community.
“We introduce golf as a low-impact alternative activity and sport to people,” Epps said. “But we also provide leadership and communications workshops. As part of that, we have evolved into an organization of business professionals that get together who love the game of golf.”
Part of that evolution has been mentoring youth in Epps’ hometown community. Her efforts weren’t always welcome in some suburban Charlotte neighborhoods, where the idea of bringing a group of black kids to a local golf course was met with a mixture of cool dismissal and quiet hostility.
“We don’t need to sugarcoat it,” Epps said. “We don’t need to make it generic. Yes, all lives matter. I believe that. We all should believe that. But in recent times, at least to some people, it seems like black lives haven’t mattered as much. And that’s what I think needs to change, not just in golf but in society and the world as a whole.
“We sometimes tiptoe around that truth instead of calling it as it is. We’re all human. We should treat every person we come into contact with the same as we treat everyone else, regardless of race or gender or anything else. But we also can’t be blind. I am black. Admitting that we are different opens the door to true diversity and inclusion.
“By admitting that, you open the door to other people’s cultures, other people’s perspectives, other people’s ways of life and other people’s feelings. That impacts a lot of audiences.”
That is the message Epps shares with youth who yearn for positive affirmation and an outlet like golf which breaks societal barriers.
“I want to share golf with the youth in my hometown community,” she said. “Through our foundation, we want to put a golf club in every child’s hands that might want it. They might not like it; they might not stay in the game; but we want them to have the opportunity to give it a try. We want them to find out one way or the other. We want it to be their choice.
“I found a local range in Charlotte and we bring in 15 youth from as far as an hour and a half away to this range. We give them golf instruction and we give them leadership lessons. They are spending three hours on a bus both ways to do this. They have to be on the bus at 5:30 in the morning to start this program. And they do it. And they love it.
“Those who are underexposed love it. They only need the opportunity.”
Opportunity is the word Epps uses often, punching each syllable to drive the message home.
“The joy that I see from the youth who continue to come month after month is incredible,” she said. “We get them a new pair of golf shoes every year. If they’re in the program for two years, we get them a new set of golf clubs. Their response is amazing.
“It’s about sharing the knowledge,” she said. “It’s about providing the environment and letting them grow. That’s our mission. That’s why I do what I do.”