Lee Elder, a barrier-breaking Black golfer, dies at 87. Lee Elder, a barrier-breaking Black golfer, died at the age of 87
Lee Elder, the first Black golfer to play in the Masters and established the path for Tiger Woods and others to follow, died at the age of 87.
The PGA Tour confirmed Mr. Elder's death with his family. No cause or information were immediately disclosed, but the PGA Tour said it confirmed Mr. Elder's death with his family.
Elder made history in 1975 at Augusta National, which had been an all-white tournament until he received an invitation after winning the Monsanto Open the previous year, a native Texan who developed his game during segregated times while caddying.
Mr. Elder missed the cut at his first Masters, but he recognized himself as a pivotal figure in a sport that had never been known for race tolerance.
Woods became the first Black golfer to get the green jacket twenty-two years later, launching one of the greatest careers in golf history.
The Masters honored Mr. Elder by bringing him to Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player for the ceremonial opening tee shots this past April, in the aftermath of social justice wars that raged the nation.
Mr. Elder was in poor health and unable to take a swing, but he stepped up his driver proudly at the first whistle, being clearly shocked by the moment.
I think it was one of the most emotional experiences I have ever seen or been involved with for me and my family, he stated.
Mr. Elder was dubbed a genuine pioneer in the game of golf, according to Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters.
In a statement, Ridley stated, "We are extremely saddened to learn of Lee Elder's passing," adding, "We are extremely saddened by the death of Lee Elder." "Lee was a cause of so many young men and women of color, not only through his play, but also through his dedication to education and community."
Lee will always be a part of the history of the Masters Tournament. His presence will be greatly missed, but his legacy will remain remembered.
Mr. Elder began golf as a caddie, believing that this was the only way Black people had to be allowed on the course. He was able to polish his game while serving in the Army and, after his discharge, joined the United Golf Association Tour for Black players in the early 1960s.
Mr. Elder was able to earn a living at the age of 33, and he had his first tour card for the 1968 season to appear as one of the UGA's greatest players, but poor prize money enabled him to enter the tournament. Finally, Mr. Elder was able to afford PGA qualifying school, where he earned his first tour card for the 1968 season.
The highlight of his rookie year was a memorable defeat to Nicklaus on the fifth hole of a sudden-death playoff at the American Golf Classic.
Mr. Elder would go on to score four PGA Tour victories and eight more PGA Tour Champions for 50-and-over players, ying for 11th at both the 1974 PGA Championship and the 1979 US Open. His greatest finish at the Masters was a tie for 17th, also in 1979.
Even if Mr. Elder's legacy was to be fully appreciated, Mr. Elder's influence on the game went far beyond victories and losses.
It always amazes me that the presidents of the United States would award these different awards to athletes for their athletic prowess, and here was a guy who... was never given the awards that he actually duly deserved, Player explained.
When he played in his first Masters, Mr. Elder was 40 years old, and so many of his prime years were taken from him by the ominous epidemic of racism.
Until 1961, the PGA had a Caucasian-only ruleit took another 14 years before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier.
Augusta National recognized Mr. Elders tremendous contributions by establishing two scholarships in his name at Paine College, a historically Black school in Augusta, before the pandemic-delayed Masters was played in November for the first time in November.
The club also invited him to participate in the ceremonial tee shot with Nicklaus and Player at this year's Masters.
It's a fantastic honor, and I adore it very much, and I will always cherish it, Mr. Elder said.
It was long overdue, said Nicklaus, "It was long overdue."
Mr. Elder was familiar with Robinson, who died in 1972, and was close to Hank Aaron, who endured racist threats throughout his stellar baseball career, particularly as he approached Babe Ruth's home run mark.
Aaron's 715th homer broke records on April 8, 1974, beating him to the top.
Mr. Elder completed the Monsanto Open 12 days later to qualify for the Masters.
Mr. Elder met with Aaron shortly before the Hammer died in January, and Mr. Elder met him.
We talked about several things... our sports, our particular sport, and the involvement that we felt we could assist other young Blacks who were coming up behind us, Mr. Elder said. And I certainly hope that the things that I have done have inspired a lot of young Black players and they will continue with it.
Mr. Elder was at Augusta National for Woods' historic win in 1997, and he wasn't about to miss seeing a Black man take the tournament for the first time.
After all, Mr. Elder paved the way.