Andy Walker is a golfer.
It's all he can remember ever being and all he ever wanted to be.
He is not a caddie, as one elderly man in Texas once mistakenly assumed he was. Nor is he a greenskeeper, a starter or a cart attendant, though he has been mistaken for all of the above.
He is dark-skinned, a product of his African American and Mexican heritage, but hopes his skill, not his color, will set him apart from other golfers.
"I don't consider myself a minority golfer," Walker said. "I'm just a golfer. It's like walking, you know. I don't remember when I learned how to walk and I don't remember when I learned how to play, it's just something I do. It's all I know. The golf course doesn't know what color I am."
Walker, a junior at Pepperdine, has taken strides recently to ensure the golf community forgets about his color and focuses on his game.
He has improved his stroke average nearly 1 1/2 strokes over last year and recently won the West Coast Conference championship--his first college victory. He is the No. 3 golfer for the Waves, ranked 21st in the nation heading into the NCAA West Regional tournament this weekend in San Diego.
Walker's father began taking him to Encanto Park in Phoenix on summer mornings when he was 4 years old. He showed an immediate interest in the game.
"My friends would come over after a round and Andy would love to hear the stories about the three-footers missed and the birdies made," said Leonard Walker, Andy's father. "He was fascinated by the game at a very early age."
At the age of 5, Andy won his first tournament. It was a 10-and-under tournament.
As he grew older, he became addicted to golf. He carried a putter around the house that was almost as tall he was. He complained about hitting plastic balls, wanting the real thing.
"The kid was hooked," Leonard said. "For Christmas and birthdays all he ever wanted was golf balls, caps, clubs or shirts. He'd be really disappointed if it wasn't golf."
Walker's passion for golf kept him going though some tough times.
"When I [played in junior tournaments] I don't think they welcomed me with open arms," Walker said. "But I never quit. And after a while, once I was part of it, it was OK. I still get stuff where they think if I'm out there I must be a caddie or people handing me a receipt asking where to get their balls. There's going to be ignorant people everywhere, you just have to learn how to deal with it.'
Walker can usually ignore such comments. On some occasions he talks to his parents and other times he calls his teaching pro, Jeff Dunovant, who is black.
Dunovant is the son of Harold Dunovant, one of the first black players ever on the PGA Tour.
"Andy gets frustrated about being known as a minority golfer," Jeff Dunovant said. "But as long as there aren't many out there he's always going to be known as a great minority golfer.
"You never hear about great minority basketball players because most of them are."
Walker says by using Tiger Woods as a role model he has learned to accept the responsibility that goes with being one of the top two candidates to be the next minority player to make the PGA Tour, as he was called in a recent Golfweek story. Kenny Simms of Florida is the other.
"Tiger is opening up so many doors for me where people are recognizing that minority golfers can play," Walker said. "I see myself as opening doors for other minority golfers."
One of those golfers he hopes to help is Randall Hunt, a senior at Cerritos Valley Christian High, who will attend Pepperdine on a golf scholarship.
Walker said his roommates, all of whom are black, have already felt his impact.
"They're interested now," he said. "They're always asking to go out to the course with me. Where as before I don't know if they knew too much about golf, now sometimes on the weekends they watch golf tournaments with me."
Walker recalls watching golf with his family every Sunday. Family vacations always included golf. "We never went anywhere without our clubs," he said.
His father remembers Andy being the first to awake on golf Saturdays. He has no regrets about taking his son to the course on those summer mornings.
"If I ever made one right decision in raising Andy it was introducing him to golf," Leonard Walker said. "We have had some great, enjoyable times on the course. We've laughed, we've cried and we've done almost anything you could do.
"But most importantly we made Andy a golfer."