Daily Mail


The first black golfer to play at the Masters


Pioneer of the fairways

GOLFER Lee Elder faced death threats as the first black player to compete in the U.S. Masters, held annually at the Augusta national Golf Club in Georgia.

After the club opened in 1932, founder Clifford Roberts boasted: ‘As long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.’ Yet it was Roberts who recognised Elder’s talent, and secured him a place in the 1975 tournament.

On the first tee

ELDER, who has died aged 87, was orphaned at the age of ten and went to live with an aunt. After seeing his brother make good money as a golf caddy, he decided to do the same. But he was too small, and so he got a job collecting balls.

He found caddying work eventually, and at a club in Dallas he was allowed to play during quiet times.

notorious gambler ‘Titanic’ Thompson was a member at the club, and he spotted the young man’s skill on the greens.

Thompson mischievou­sly taunted his opponents: ‘You’re so bad you couldn’t beat my caddy.’ His indignant opponents bet large sums of money, and Elder duly thrashed them.

The road to Augusta

HE JOINED the black golf circuit in 1961, and was doing so well that, by 1968 — winning 18 out of 22 tournament­s — he was accepted on the main PGA Tour.

The PGA had enforced a whites-only rule until 1961, and life still wasn’t easy for black players. When Elder won Florida’s Monsanto open in 1974, he wasn’t allowed in the clubhouse and had to change in the car park with the other black players.

At a tournament in Memphis, he was leading when a member of the crowd jumped over the fence, picked up his ball, and tossed it on to a road. He played the next day with a police escort.

Making golf history

A LEADING sports writer once noted that the Masters was as ‘white as the Ku Klux Klan’. That didn’t stop Elder getting a warm reception at the 1975 tournament. ‘Every green I walked up on, the applause was just tremendous,’ he recalled. However, he missed the cut after two rounds. Four years later, he got his best result at the Masters, tying for 17th place. He also enjoyed four wins on the PGA Tour.

Lee’s legacy

In 1997, Tiger Woods (pictured, right, with Elder) became the first black golfer to win the Masters, and paid tribute to Elder’s inspiratio­n: ‘I’m the first member of a minority to win here, but I’m not the first to play in the tournament. Before me there was Lee Elder, and I take my hat off to him.’


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