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Thelma Cowans

Thelma Louis Simmons was born in Georgia in 1912, and moved with her family to Detroit in 1922.  While a student at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia, she and her younger sister Theresa, helped organize golf teams for women at black colleges.  The sisters, who were close, started playing golf at the same time and would often battle each other with one usually winning by a stroke or two.  

It was said little sister Theresa's drives and irons were clean and straight with her easily driving 215 yards.  Thelma's long game was not as strong as her sister's, but she seldomly missed a putt.

Theresa took the bachelor's degree she earned in business and during World War II, worked as a clerk at the Pentagon.  At the end of the war she moved to New York where she taught physical education.  In 1947, Theresa returned to Detroit and opened a restaurant, Theresa's BBQ.  The restaurant was open for about 26 years before it closed in 1973 due to a fire. 

In 1945, Thelma was briefly married to Detroit sports columnist Russell Cowans and later moved to Los Angeles in 1948.  She frequently played golf with boxer Joe Louis who was an avid golfer.


Big sister Thelma became a pioneering black professional golfer.  She won the United Golfer's Association national championship five times, in 1947, 1949, 1954, 1955, and 1956. Thelma was denied membership into the Ladies Professional Golfer's Association in 1951 because of her race.  She refused to let that stop her.  She became the first black to play in the George S. May and Tam O'Shanter tournaments in Chicago.

Thelma Cowans became a member of the Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame in Detroit and the United Golfer's Association Hall of Fame.  She was a founding member of the Detroit Amateur Golf Club.

Thelma Cowans - pictured far left, sister Theresa Howell seated.


Detroit Free Press - Sisters Continue Golf War. August 23, 1967 - page 1B

Detroit Free Press - Thelma Cowans, 5-time golf champion. February 7, 1990 - page 4B

Detroit Free Press - Theresa Simmons Howell: Trailblazing black woman. November 3, 2000 - page 3B

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