One of the most influential female golf players is someone you may not even have heard of: Ann Gregory. Famously dubbed the “Queen of Black Golf,” Gregory was a trailblazer for women of color in athletics as the first black woman to play in a USGA championship. Earlier this year, a feature film, “Playing Through”, was released to celebrate Gregory’s incredible life and career.
Based on true events, “Playing Through” is a fictionalized account of Gregory’s life and the adversity she overcame as a black woman playing golf in the 1950s. of her golf career, particularly the 1959 U.S. Women’s Amateur Tournament at the Congressional Country Club.
In the film, Gregory competes with the fictional Babs Whatling, an affluent southern white woman. We get a glimpse of the two women’s contrasting journeys, setting the stage for what will soon be a fiery competition.
Before the game, we see the glaring differences between Whatling and Gregory, who battles criticism from every angle. But their obvious disparities seem to fade once they hit the first tee and their unforgettable match ensues.
Although the story and some of the characters are fictional, the film is based on the real 1959 American women’s amateur match that Gregory played against Josephine Knowlton Jordan, otherwise known as Dadie. Even more interesting? The film was written by Jordan’s son, Curtis Jordan.
He says the inspiration for the story came from a conversation he had over thirty years ago. Jordan, who was the rowing coach at Princeton, was approached during a rowing competition by a friend who had read an article about Gregory playing against his mother.
Curious, Jordan asked his mother about his important amateur golf career, but she didn’t have much to say.
That didn’t stop Jordan from wanting to tell Gregory’s story.
“It stuck with me and I couldn’t walk away from it,” Jordan said.
Knowing what a fierce competitor his mother was, it wasn’t hard for Jordan to sit down and bring the game to life. Throughout the writing and filming process, Jordan focused on ensuring the film had an authentic female perspective. He consulted with several female writers on the script and hired director Balbinka Korzeniowska to ensure that every aspect of the film was true to the top female athletes it honored.
“During the editing process, I asked people to change the script and make friends. They wanted them to share recipes, but it was a highly competitive moment that I didn’t want to minimize,” Jordan said.
This attention to detail was not only apparent in the script, but also in their casting. When he found someone to play Gregory, Jordan made it clear he wanted a golfer, but what he got was even better.
Andia Winslow, who played Gregory in the film, is a professional golfer who’s no stranger to breaking barriers herself: When she joined Yale’s golf team in 2000, she became the first female black to play college golf in the Ivy League. Although Winslow had voice-over experience, she had no formal acting experience when she was cast. Jordan knew Winslow would be perfect for the role; he just had no idea of perfection.
“As we were signing papers, Andia turned to me and said, ‘You know the Gregorys are friends of the family. I actually started playing golf because of her,” Jordan said.
Learning to play your idol in a movie about his life – talk about a loop moment.
Through Andia, the team got to know Gregory’s daughter, JoAnn Overstreet, and her family. This connection helped Jordan and his team tell Gregory’s story with more personal and historical accuracy and created a lasting bond between them.
Once they had the script and the lead roles, they were ready to film. Unfortunately Covid hit and they had to pivot from their original production plan.
“In an effort to support Sarasota’s strong performing arts community, we have partnered with Ringling College of Arts and Design Film School, Sarasota Opera House and Westcoast Black Theater for our actors, our team, our facilities and more,” said Jordan.
“It was such a collaborative effort. When filming wrapped, the entire Sarasota community was very involved in the success of the film,” Jordan said.
The community was so involved that Jordan made all three institutions part owners of the film.
“Playing Through” won the Audience Award at the Sarasota Film Festival, was selected as one of the Top 7 Feature Films at the Durban International Film Festival, and is one of three HBOMax nominees for Best Picture at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival this week.
Jordan’s plans for the film go beyond festivals. He also hopes to share “Playing Through” with people who resonate with Gregory’s story, starting with the inaugural Black Golfers’ Weekend event which is slated for this fall.