Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
Laura Diaz took her first golf lesson on her 10th birthday and instantly fell in love with the game. ”I remember my brother and I used to tell my dad to take us to the place with the shoes that go click, click. We started going with him just having fun, driving the car, and then we started taking lessons,” she says. Now working as the LPGA’s senior director of foundation operations and diversity, equity and inclusion, Diaz dedicates herself to making the game she loves accessible to as many women and girls as possible.
It didn’t take long for her parents to realize that she had a natural affinity for the sport and signed her up for lessons with LPGA tour veteran Martha Faulconer. After developing her skills under the instruction of Faulconer, Diaz began playing in tournaments and representing her native Puerto Rico as part of the national team at just 13 years old.
Diaz continued to play on the national team throughout high school and tried her hand at other sports like basketball and volleyball. “I’m 5’11”. Everybody in my family thought I was going to be a volleyball prodigy, but once I started playing golf, I really fell in love with it,” she says. At 18, Diaz earned an athletic scholarship to play on the golf team at East Tennessee State. While many would find the transition of starting over in a new place unsettling, she quickly found comfort in the camaraderie among other international students and female teammates, which was a new and refreshing experience for Diaz. “In Puerto Rico, not many women played,” says Diaz, but college was different for her. “We were all roommates with each other; we had automatic friends.”
In 2007, after completing her undergraduate degree in public relations and mass communications from East Tennessee—a slight deviation from her initial plan of becoming a doctor like her father and grandfather—Diaz returned to Puerto Rico and began her career at the Puerto Rico Golf Association. She continued her education at the University of Georgia, earning a master’s degree in sports management. Having maintained a relationship with her former colleagues and associates at PRGA and from her days on tour, Diaz landed a dream internship at the PGA Tour, where she was placed at First Tee headquarters. During her eight-year tenure at First Tee, Diaz served as manager of events, managing national programs and events focused on youth leadership, mentorship and character building.
In 2019, Diaz joined the LPGA as director of foundation operations, overseeing all programs and services supporting the LPGA Foundation. In this role, the knowledge she gained in her nearly 14 years in the events and operations space, learning the nuances of the industry, are invaluable in leading her team to success. “I don’t make my team do anything I haven’t done before,” Diaz says. I’ve been in a gravel lot with a little wand from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Literally, I’ve done it all.”
In 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, LPGA, like many other companies and organizations, released a statement condemning police-sanctioned violence, reiterating company values, and supporting the employees. Curious, Diaz reached out to her CMO to inquire how the statement had been developed. After a productive and enlightening exchange, she teamed up with the CMO to best figure out how LPGA can continue to stick to its values and start a more inclusive journey. Always curious and willing to raise her hand when things need to get done, it’s no surprise that Diaz was tapped for her new role as the senior director of foundation operations and DEI. “I’m really hoping to align closer with our global human resources department and with our executive leadership team to really analyze the results of our existing programs, provide solutions, and continue to advise the LPGA on everything related to diversity, equity and inclusion,” she says.
Diaz is looking forward to what the future will bring and creating something new with the blank slate she’s been given. For her, it’s about diversifying the game and the leadership teams, bringing in new perspectives, and shaking things up. Although her days of being the only female player on her course in Puerto Rico are in the past, providing access and removing barriers to playing and watching golf are still very much at the forefront of her mind.
By utilizing the tools at the LPGA, she hopes to see incremental changes over the next decade, including elevating more women of color internally and on tour, expanding the supplier diversity chain, and creating a community player pipeline. “I would really love to further partner with organizations and communities and really get people to come out and see our amazing athletes because that’s something that I feel a lot of people miss out on,” Diaz says. “I want more young, Hispanic women, Black women, and Asian women to experience it because if you can see it, you can be it.”
Danielle Bryant is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.