Letter to My Younger Self

Kohjiro Kinno for The Players' Tribune

Dear 13-year-old Sadena, 

Never forget what it felt like — that feeling when you first arrived at Leisure Hour golf camp in Portland, Oregon, and for the first time in your life, you had a sense of pride and camaraderie playing the game you love with children who looked like you.  

Never forget that familiar “cousin” vibe of sitting with golfers in the back of that big, yellow school bus on the way to the range. Roasting each other, horsing around, talking about each other’s swing, and anxious to get on the course.

Never forget that camp, Sadena. 

And never forget how you feel right now, leaving Leisure Hour and heading back home to Spanaway, Washington. You’re comfortable — like for the first time you know exactly who you are. You feel authentically yourself. 

That’s something you haven’t felt very often on the golf course. Ever since you were eight years old and you first went to the range with Dad, you’ve had this feeling — like you’re not welcome there. Like you don’t belong. People would tell you that, straight up. You don’t belong here. But the worst is when they don’t say anything. 

They just stare

That’s why I want you to remember that feeling you have now. Because when you get back to Washington, it will be just like it was when you left. Just like it was when you first moved there with Dad after the divorce. The place, the people — everything will be the same. 

The only thing that will have changed is you. 

Courtesy of Sadena Parks (2)

I know basketball is your first love. (It low-key always will be.) But I think you’re starting to see that golf is going to take you places you’ve never been. Dad, too. And to get there, you’re going to need two things: patience and perseverance. The trick will be deciding which to lean on, and when. 

The perseverance part? That’s going to take some time. But you’ll get it. Dad set that foundation. He always says, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.” And believe me, you won’t. You’ll persevere because Dad will always be there to push you. 

And because of your love for the game. 

You’ll watch the Golf Channel every day — all the drills, all the old tournament reruns, all the wack infomercials … everything. Some mornings, you’ll wake up for school and the Golf Channel will still be on. 

You’ll clean carts and shag balls at the Classic Golf Club from junior high all the way up through high school just to get free range balls and free rounds. 

You’ll spend so much time at the course after school that there will be days when — if you forget your phone in the car — people will freak out because you’re not answering your phone. They’ll be ready to send out a search party to find you, but you’re just out on the course, practicing your wedge and bunker shots. 

You’ll get to the point where you’ll be able to block out all the noise because you put so much pressure on yourself that outside pressure won’t faze you. 

You’ll get to the point where you’ll be able to block out all the noise because you put so much pressure on yourself that outside pressure won’t faze you. 

Sadena Parks

A perfect example is when you win your first of two high school state titles. You’ll make a lot of clutch putts — your short game will be on fire. But there will be this one moment — this one shot — that will sum everything up for you. 

Your opponent at state will make a pretty sick chip from about 90 feet out, and the crowd will ooh and ahh about it. But not you. That girl will step back and say something like, “You can go.” But her ball’s still in the hole. 

So you’ll tell her to go get it. 

And while she’s at it, pull the flag. 

Then you’ll square up and chip in — one of those shots you’ve hit a thousand times on those days after school — and the crowd will go crazy. You’ll go on to win the state title in a three-hole playoff. 

Winning state that year will be one of those epic moments of hard work paying off. And when you win, Dad will run up to you crying — I mean off-the-charts crying. You know what a big softie he is. He’ll be like, “We did it! We did it!” 

And it will be “we” who did it, because you gotta give that man credit … he’ll be there for you every step of the way.

Kohjiro Kinno for The Players' Tribune

That’s the perseverance part. It won’t just be rising above the comments and the stares around the country club. It will be dealing with pressure, no matter where it comes from. 

Because there’ll always be pressure. 

You will put pressure on yourself to perform and get the W. That’s pressure, too. But don’t overthink it. Be authentic and stay true to who you are and the results will make you — and the people you represent — proud. 

That’s where patience will come in. 

Sometimes you’ll need to learn to be intentionally absent — to step back and observe. The best example of that will come in 2017. 

When you get your LPGA Tour card, you’ll be just the fifth African-American woman to have done so, and the first to have done it through the LPGA’s developmental tour. With that will come expectations — not just for you on the golf course, but also for what people will want you to be, and the image they will expect you to portray. 

Your signature style will be unmatched.

You’ll organically bring your love for the game of basketball to the course. From wearing Jordans, to your natural protective hairstyles, to expressing yourself through fashion. You’ll even travel with a basketball. Your very existence in the sport challenges the traditional mold we’ve seen in golf. 

When you turn pro, some people will try to force you into that mold. 

It won’t just be rising above the comments and the stares around the country club. It will be dealing with pressure, no matter where it comes from. 

Sadena Parks

As the people around you try to figure out where you belong and how to market you, they'll break you down and rebuild you how they think you should be — and they’ll do it without talking to you about it. They’ll take away the coach you love and give you a new one. Your caddy, who’s like a brother to you? Gone. You’ll have no control. And one day you’ll find yourself at a photoshoot in a dress and heels wearing green eyeshadow. You won’t even recognize yourself, and you’ll realize that it’s not about you at all.

It’s about them

That will take a toll on you. 

Golf is about conquering the mind. So, in 2017, after struggling on the course, losing your Tour card and realizing that your whole life is out of alignment — your relationships, your game and your identity — you’ll walk away. You’ll spend some time with Dad. Talk to people you trust. You’ll repair your relationships, rediscover who you are and what you want and educate yourself on how to go get it. 

Then, after the longest break since you first picked up a club, you’ll find yourself back to the range one day. You’ll hit a few balls and realize … YO! — You still got it. You haven’t lost anything. 

That’s when you’ll know it’s time to come back, and you’ll come back the same way you’re going back home right now after your time at Leisure Hour. 



Authentically yourself. 

Within your first seven months back, you’ll get a win. It will come in the John Shippen National Invitational, a tournament that aims to expand upon Black representation in golf and create awareness and opportunities for people of color in sports. It will be an honor to win a tournament that honors John Shippen, the first American-born golf professional as well as the country's first Black golf professional. 

On top of that W, you’ll secure two LPGA exemptions that will allow you to compete on the Tour again. 

That’s where I’m at now, and I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. 

Kohjiro Kinno for The Players' Tribune

As I write this, remembering the road that got me here — the one you have ahead of you — I realize how far I’ve come. There are so many things I could tell you about what you’ll experience. But at the end of the day, all you have to do is remember patience and perseverance while staying true to who you are. 

Don’t conform. Be authentic.

Be good to Dad. 

Stay prepared. 

And go get that W.