Taneka Mackey grabbed the opportunity to represent her home country the Bahamas, Blacks and Black women to be precise when she gave up her dream of being a professional golfer to caddy for Amy Olson. This move makes her the only Black woman and Bahamian to caddy full time on the LPGA tour.
Many people are unwilling to give in to new opportunities when the one envisioned for themselves slightly differs from their reality. Mackey grew up playing basketball and had a slight passion for golf after her parents urged her and her two brothers to join the team.
Although her parents struggled to make ends meet, there were things they never compromised on when it comes to their children, especially education and athletics, and made sure they were the best at whichever they chose to play.
Her parents raised them with proceeds from their early education school in their hometown Nassau. The family of five lived in a one-bedroom apartment for the first six years of Mackey’s life and later moved into a two-bedroom apartment on the school premises.
Being the only girl among two brothers, Mackey had the competitive urge from the get-go wanting to be the best at everything she tried her hands on with her older brother, Terrell, who is her biggest competitor.
The 26-year-old loved swimming as a child and later picked up basketball along the way and it became her everything. To be better than her brother, Mackey chose to use her after school hours to practice getting better at the game all in pursuit of being better than Terrell.
So even when she began to play golf at the age of 10, basketball came first. To date, there is this perception about golf being a “white people’s sport” or “a rich people’s thing” so many Black kids would not go near the sport but that did not deter Mackey. She was a little Black girl then and her parent’s economic status was nothing to write home about, but she shrugged off the negative comments and kept playing.
Her family could not afford to buy her own set of golf clubs and Mackey played with rental ones for close to six years.
“I rented a set of golf clubs for $25. The man that rented me the set told me, “You can keep them as long as you want, and whenever you return it, we will give you back $15,” she recounted.
Mackey purchased her first set of golf clubs when she was in senior in high school for $150 from the local driving range pro.
In fact, it was her mother, Kristine Sandiford, who at the time convinced her and her brother to pick up golfing because the Bahamas Golf Federation wanted more children to play golf. They were already very sporty children and decided to give the game a shot. Mackey was good at it, with her first tutor being a soccer coach who had the passion for golf.
“I liked trying something new and keeping up with my brother. After six months of learning how to play the game, when I was 11, I made the Bahamas national team,” Mackey said to ESPN.
This was the eureka moment for Mackey when she realized golf could offer more opportunities than she could imagine. As a junior on the national team, she traveled to five other Caribbean islands playing for her team.
After going with Basketball and playing for the Pensacola Christian College women’s basketball team in Florida, Mackey still played golf and competed in tournaments.
Eventually, realizing how good she was at golf and getting a nod from many people around her, she got a scholarship to Redlands Community College where she played with them for two years then finally moved to Chicago State University’s women’s golf team in 2014 on an athletic scholarship.
This promising golfer was at a crossroads when she wanted to play in the LPGA; this meant losing her amateur status and scholarship. All she wanted to do was be an inspiration for other Black girls. She volunteered at the tournament and poached to caddy for Jill McGill. She saw that as an opportunity to still have her name in the history books as a caddy for a professional golfer in an LPGA Tour and she took it.
“When I walked past the crowd holding McGill’s bag, I wanted the spectators to know that I’m a Bahamian. I wanted the kids in the stands to see that I’m representing their country. I’m there for them. For us.”
Mackey met LPGA Tour player Amy Olson (née Anderson) in 2017 when she needed a local caddy for the tournament. From there, she began caddying for her almost full time to the point where Olson enlisted her services in the 2018 season.
Then during what seemed to be the peak of her career, the then 24-year-old had her first seizure in November 2018 while jogging in her neighborhood in the Bahamas after short fatigue. She was rushed to the hospital where doctors found 20-plus lesions on her brain with no conclusive diagnosis until February 7, the next year, when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
During the three months Mackey waited for the diagnosis, she kept her head above water, and still caddied for Olson. Their bond grew both professionally and personally and with the doctor’s permission, she traveled with her to her Australian tournament.
“We had a great friendship and professional relationship, but my diagnosis deepened our bond… Although there were many uncertainties at that time with my new diagnosis — my family, Olson and God helped me.
“And I knew that caddying on the tour at the start of the season was something I needed to do. I wanted to show people that you can be down but you’re not out. And that’s exactly how I felt.”
Her diagnosis did not kill her dreams, rather it was the fuel that burned in her whenever she caddied for Olson or walked on the golf course. It is that which solidified the fact that she needed to leave a legacy for many to follow in her steps, especially Bahamians and little Black girls and boys.
“I may not be white, and I may not be rich, but I am here.
“God put me here for a reason. And sometimes, I am the only Black woman on the course. And that’s OK because I know that I’m not going to be the last. I might not be playing on tour. But that doesn’t mean I’m not making a difference.”
According to ESPN, through all these trying times, Mackey tied the knot with her long-time friend of seven years and best friend in December 2019.