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Lee Elder, 1st Black golfer to play Masters, dies

Lee Elder, 1st Black golfer to play Masters, dies

This previous April, the Masters honored Elder by having him be part of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Participant for the ceremonial opening tee photographs.

Lee Elder, who broke down racial boundaries as the primary Black golfer to play within the Masters and paved the best way for Tiger Woods and others to observe, has died on the age of 87.

The PGA Tour introduced Elder’s demise, which was first reported Monday by Debert Cook of African American Golfers Digest. No trigger or particulars had been instantly out there, however the tour stated it confirmed Elder’s demise together with his household.

A local Texan who developed his sport throughout segregated occasions whereas caddying, Elder made historical past in 1975 at Augusta Nationwide, which had been an all-white match till he acquired an invite after profitable the Monsanto Open the earlier yr.

Elder missed the minimize at his first Masters however endlessly stamped himself as a groundbreaking determine in a sport that had by no means been identified for racial tolerance.

Twenty-two years later, Woods turned the primary Black golfer to seize the inexperienced jacket, launching one of many biggest careers in golf historical past.

This previous April, within the wake of social justice protests that roiled the nation, the Masters honored Elder by having him be part of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Participant for the ceremonial opening tee photographs.

Elder was unwell and unable to take a swing, however he held up his driver proudly on the first tee, clearly moved by the second.

“For me and my household, I feel it was one of the crucial emotional experiences that I’ve ever witnessed or been concerned in,” he stated.

Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta Nationwide Golf Membership and the Masters, known as Elder “a real pioneer within the sport of golf.”

“We’re deeply saddened to study of the passing of Lee Elder,” Ridley stated in a press release. “Lee was an inspiration to so many younger women and men of colour not solely by his play, but additionally by his dedication to training and group. Lee will at all times be part of the historical past of the Masters Event. His presence can be sorely missed, however his legacy will proceed to be celebrated.”

Elder obtained into golf as a caddie, since that primarily was the one conduit Black individuals needed to be permitted on the course. He was in a position to polish his sport whereas serving within the Military and, after his discharge, joined the United Golf Affiliation Tour for Black gamers within the early Nineteen Sixties.

He developed into one of many UGA’s finest gamers, however meager prize cash made it powerful to earn a dwelling. Lastly, on the age of 33, Elder was in a position to afford PGA qualifying faculty, the place he earned his first tour card for the 1968 season.

The spotlight of his rookie yr was a memorable loss to Nicklaus on the fifth gap of a sudden-death playoff on the American Golf Basic.

Elder would go on to seize 4 PGA Tour victories and eight extra wins on the PGA Tour Champions for 50-and-over gamers. He performed in all 4 main championships, tying for eleventh at each the 1974 PGA Championship and the 1979 U.S. Open. His finest end on the Masters was a tie for seventeenth, additionally in 1979.

However Elder’s influence on the sport went far past wins and losses, even when it took a long time for his legacy to be totally appreciated.

“It at all times amazed me that presidents of the US can be giving these completely different awards to athletes for his or her athletic prowess, and right here was a person that … was by no means given the awards that he truly duly deserved,” Participant stated.

Elder was 40 when he performed in his first Masters, so lots of his prime years already stolen from him by the scourge of racism.

The PGA had a Caucasian-only rule till 1961 — 14 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s colour barrier. It took one other 14 years earlier than the Masters lastly invited a Black participant.

Final yr, earlier than the pandemic-delayed Masters was performed in November for the primary time, Augusta Nationwide acknowledged Elder’s monumental contributions by organising two scholarships in his title at Paine School, a traditionally Black faculty in Augusta.

The membership additionally invited him to participate within the ceremonial tee shot with Nicklaus and Participant at this yr’s Masters.

“It’s an excellent honor, and I cherish it very a lot, and I’ll at all times cherish it,” Elder stated.

Nicklaus added, “It was lengthy overdue.”

Elder knew Robinson, who died in 1972, and was shut with Hank Aaron, who endured racist threats all through his stellar baseball profession, notably as he approached what was Babe Ruth’s dwelling run mark.

Aaron hit his record-breaking 715th homer on April 8, 1974.

Twelve days later, Elder gained the Monsanto Open to qualify for the next yr’s Masters.

Elder visited with Aaron shortly earlier than the Hammer died in January.

“We talked about a number of issues … our sports activities, our explicit sport and the involvement that we felt that we may assist different younger Blacks that was arising behind us,” Elder stated. “And I definitely hope that the issues that I’ve accomplished have impressed lots of younger Black gamers and they’ll proceed on with it.”

Elder was at Augusta Nationwide for Woods’ historic win in 1997. He wasn’t about to overlook seeing a Black man win the match for the primary time.

In spite of everything, it was Elder who paved the best way.

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