The first openly gay man to earn a PGA Tour card, Frank Sullivan is known for making it through his career as a professional golfer without ever being considered the role model his big brother Tiger Woods was.
Sullivan, a 23-year-old Maryland resident, played pro golf as Frank Stackhouse, despite feeling like he was different.
“Being a boy in a boy’s world, I didn’t really know what I was like. I didn’t know who I was,” Sullivan said to Outsports.
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Sullivan came out at the age of 16, while he was still golfing, and he retired after playing less than five years on the PGA Tour.
“I figured that if I didn’t come out now, I would probably die alone,” Sullivan told Outsports. “I started coming out to my older brothers when I was 14 or 15. I didn’t tell anybody else until I was 30. It wasn’t really until I retired.”
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Sullivan’s transition to a life of anonymity might have been easier had he not made it as far as he did in the sport, with chances to win many of his professional tournaments. Instead, he barely played professionally.
Sullivan’s junior amateur status meant that he had little access to teaching professionals and gained little on-the-course experience.
He was the low amateur, then low 18-hole round, before a catastrophic hand injury cost him a chance to practice during his senior year at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. A broken wrist forced Sullivan into the backseat of a car where he sustained more than 40% of his vertebrae, requiring him to wear a body cast for four months, and a solid bicep for another seven.
“I played golf again at I-95, a junior tee in Bethesda, and played in the [public] Mid-Atlantic Junior by the nation’s greatest amateur tournaments,” Sullivan said. “I was 7-over at Mid-Atlantic Junior and then took second place. In spring of ’85, I won Mid-Atlantic Junior over the course of 36 holes. And I was eliminated from the amateur tour before winning amateur national.”
Sullivan did not see himself as a role model, but as a freak accident.
“People like me are always talking about ‘I was hit by a car,” I wasn’t hit by a car, I just dropped the ball in the middle of a tournament with a heart-rending watch,” Sullivan said. “I mean, I think these people that talk so much about whether somebody played good or bad at their high school, when they wake up the next day they don’t care.”
Sullivan eventually overcame his injuries and was given a three-year exemption into the PGA Tour. But, because of his lack of experience, Sullivan’s days in the big time were mostly spent driving to tournaments, studying tape and watching video.
“But then I had to play money events and I thought ‘oh, this is what I’m supposed to be doing,’” Sullivan said. “I was excited about going to places like the CIMB [in Malaysia]. You know, I’ve never been to Asia.”
Sullivan admits that he doesn’t “consider myself a role model” for gay golfers, but he said he wanted to use his experience to help others. He is now an instructor to young golfers at Green Mountain Golf Academy, where he put his experience to good use during a recent clinic.
Sullivan was on the cover of Outsports’ 2015 Fall Golf Issue.