As a young girl in the Bahamas, Taneka Mackey had dreams of being a professional basketball player. She only started playing golf because the Bahamas Golf Federation was trying to get more kids involved in the sport. Basketball was still the focus, golf was the hobby.
Mackey was good enough at basketball to play collegiately at Pensacola (Fla.) Christian College. But she was even better at golf.
When Redlands Community College in El Reno, Oklahoma, offered her a golf scholarship, she decided to make the switch. Soon, Mackey’s dream became to represent the Bahamas in an LPGA event.
Her opportunity came at the 2013 Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic. A spot was going to a Bahamian player and Mackey wanted it. Because she was a collegiate student-athlete at the time, accepting the invite would mean forfeiting her amateur status and losing her scholarship. Mackey couldn’t bring herself to make that sacrifice.
Wanting to be involved in the tournament anyway, she volunteered and was asked to caddy. Four years later, she caddied at the same tournament for golfer Amy Olson. The two immediately hit it off.
“The connection was instant,” Mackey said in a first-person piece for ESPN. “It felt like a friendship that you’ve fostered for years. But it also felt like a turning point for me. I finally felt like this is what I was meant to do.”
By 2018, she was caddying for Olson almost full-time. That November, Mackey suffered a seizure while out running and was rushed to the hospital. In spite of what she’d just gone through, Mackey found peace and gratitude by reflecting on the ways God has blessed her.
“There were so many things that I had accomplished that I never even imagined I would have the opportunity to do in my life,” she said. “I was completely satisfied with my life at that time. And I couldn’t credit myself for that. I could only credit God.”
It took until Feb. 9, 2019 for doctors to determine what happened and diagnose Mackey with multiple sclerosis. During that period of uncertainty, Olson – who recently came on the Sports Spectrum Podcast – supported Mackey and prayed with her.
Mackey clung to her faith in God’s plan for her life amid all the fear and confusion.
“Between the moment I picked up a golf club to the moment I started carrying a bag on the LPGA Tour, there were so many doors that had been opened up for me,” she said. “And as I worried about why the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, I believed that God had more in store for me. It wasn’t my time to go.”
Mackey returned to Olson’s bag for the beginning of the 2019 LPGA season and helped guide her to a runner-up finish at the U.S. Women’s Open this past December, as Olson grieved the unexpected loss of her father-in-law.
The only full-time Black caddie on the LPGA Tour, the 26-year-old Mackey is living out her dream of being an inspirational figure for her fellow Bahamians, and people of color everywhere through sports — just in a different way than she’d originally envisioned.
“God put me here for a reason,” she said. “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.”