Lee Elder, 1st Black golfer to play Masters, dies at age 87

Nov 29, 2021, 10:04 AM | Updated: 11:02 am
FILE - Lee Elder waves as he arrives for the ceremonial tee shots before the first round of the Mas...

FILE - Lee Elder waves as he arrives for the ceremonial tee shots before the first round of the Masters golf tournament on Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. At far right is Phil Mickelson. Person at right in cart is unidentified. Elder broke down racial barriers as the first Black golfer to play in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others to follow. The PGA Tour confirmed Elder’s death, which was first reported by Debert Cook of African American Golfers Digest. No cause or details were immediately available, but the tour said it spoke with Elder's family. He was 87. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Lee Elder, who broke down racial barriers as the first Black golfer to play in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others to follow, has died at the age of 87.

The PGA Tour announced Elder’s death, which was first reported Monday by Debert Cook of African American Golfers Digest. No cause or details were immediately available, but the tour said it confirmed Elder’s death with his family.

A native Texan who developed his game during segregated times while caddying, 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.

Elder missed the cut at his first Masters but forever stamped himself as a groundbreaking figure in a sport that had never been known for racial tolerance.

Twenty-two years later, Woods became the first Black golfer to capture the green jacket, launching one of the greatest careers in golf history.

This past April, in the wake of social justice protests that roiled the nation, the Masters honored Elder by having him join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player for the ceremonial opening tee shots.

Elder was in poor health and unable to take a swing, but he held up his driver proudly at the first tee, clearly moved by the moment.

“For me and my family, I think it was one of the most emotional experiences that I have ever witnessed or been involved in,” he said.

Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters, called Elder “a true pioneer in the game of golf.”

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Lee Elder,” Ridley said in a statement. “Lee was an inspiration to so many young men and women of color not only through his play, but also through his commitment to education and community. Lee will always be a part of the history of the Masters Tournament. His presence will be sorely missed, but his legacy will continue to be celebrated.”

Elder got into golf as a caddie, since that essentially was the only conduit Black people had to be permitted 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.

He developed into one of the UGA’s best players, but meager prize money made it tough to earn a living. Finally, at the age of 33, 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 loss to Nicklaus on the fifth hole of a sudden-death playoff at the American Golf Classic.

Elder would go on to capture four PGA Tour victories and eight more wins on the PGA Tour Champions for 50-and-over players. He played in all four major championships, tying for 11th at both the 1974 PGA Championship and the 1979 U.S. Open. His best finish at the Masters was a tie for 17th, also in 1979.

But Elder’s impact on the game went far beyond wins and losses, even if it took decades for his legacy to be fully appreciated.

“It always amazed me that presidents of the United States would be giving these different awards to athletes for their athletic prowess, and here was a man that … was never given the awards that he actually duly deserved,” Player said.

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

The PGA had a Caucasian-only rule until 1961 — 14 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. It took another 14 years before the Masters finally invited a Black player.

Last year, before the pandemic-delayed Masters was played in November for the first time, Augusta National recognized Elder’s enormous contributions by setting up two scholarships in his name at Paine College, a historically Black school in Augusta.

The club also invited him to take part in the ceremonial tee shot with Nicklaus and Player at this year’s Masters.

“It’s a great honor, and I cherish it very much, and I will always cherish it,” Elder said.

Nicklaus added, “It was long overdue.”

Elder knew Robinson, who died in 1972, and was close with Hank Aaron, who endured racist threats throughout his stellar baseball career, particularly as he approached what was Babe Ruth’s home run mark.

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

Twelve days later, Elder won the Monsanto Open to qualify for the following year’s Masters.

Elder visited with Aaron shortly before the Hammer died in January.

“We talked about several things … our sports, our particular sport and the involvement that we felt that we could help other young Blacks that was coming up behind us,” 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 on with it.”

Elder was at Augusta National for Woods’ historic win in 1997. He wasn’t about to miss seeing a Black man win the tournament for the first time.

After all, it was Elder who paved the way.

___

More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

___

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              FILE - Lee Elder is seen arriving at the Masters golf course to play practice round in Augusta, Ga., on April 10, 1975. Elder broke down racial barriers as the first Black golfer to play in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others to follow. The PGA Tour confirmed Elder’s death, which was first reported by Debert Cook of African American Golfers Digest. No cause or details were immediately available, but the tour said it spoke with Elder's family. He was 87. (AP Photo/File)
            
              FILE - Lee Elder signs autographs for patrons outside the club house at the 2008 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Monday, April 7, 2008. Elder broke down racial barriers as the first Black golfer to play in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others to follow. The PGA Tour confirmed Elder’s death, which was first reported by Debert Cook of African American Golfers Digest. No cause or details were immediately available, but the tour said it spoke with Elder's family. He was 87.  (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)
            
              FILE - Lee Elder waves as he arrives for the ceremonial tee shots before the first round of the Masters golf tournament on Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. At far right is Phil Mickelson. Person at right in cart is unidentified. Elder broke down racial barriers as the first Black golfer to play in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others to follow. The PGA Tour confirmed Elder’s death, which was first reported by Debert Cook of African American Golfers Digest. No cause or details were immediately available, but the tour said it spoke with Elder's family. He was 87. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

AP

Associated Press

TV anchors T.J. Holmes, Amy Robach leave ABC amid romance

NEW YORK (AP) — T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach, anchors at the afternoon extension of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” are leaving the network after their romance was reported in November. The pair were taken off the air and placed on temporary hiatus after photos surfaced of them holding hands and spending time together. Both were […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

Delaware Gov. John Carney tests positive for COVID-19

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Delaware Gov. John Carney has tested positive for COVID-19, the governor’s office announced on Saturday. Carney tested positive late Friday using an at-home antigen test after experiencing mild symptoms, according to a news release. Carney, 66, said he’s “feeling fine” and is isolating himself — following U.S. Centers for Disease Control […]
13 hours ago
FILE - FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried leaves Manhattan federal court on Jan. 3, 2023, in New York, a...
Associated Press

FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried, DOJ tussle over his communications

Federal prosecutors are trying to prohibit FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried from privately contacting current and former employees of the bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange to prevent potential witness tampering in a criminal case accusing him of bilking investors and customers. The request, made in a letter filed late Friday by U.S. Justice Department lawyers, prompted an indignant […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

Challenge for Tunisian democracy: Getting voters to show up

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia was once the Arab world’s hope for a new era of democracy. Now it’s in the midst of an election that’s more of an embarrassment than a model. Barely 11% of voters turned out in the first round of parliamentary elections last month, boycotted by opposition Islamists and ignored by […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

Philippines probes labor abuses in Kuwait after new killing

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government said Saturday it will take steps to assess and prevent abuses including rape and maltreatment of Filipino workers in Kuwait, after a housemaid was killed and dumped in a desert in the oil-rich emirate. The remains of Jullebee Ranara were flown home Friday night from Kuwait, where the […]
13 hours ago
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni speaks during a conference in Tripoli, Libya, Saturday, Jan. ...
Associated Press

Italy, Libya sign $8B gas deal as PM Meloni visits Tripoli

CAIRO (AP) — Italy’s prime minister held talks in Libya on Saturday with officials from the country’s west-based government focusing on energy and migration, top issues for Italy and the European Union. During the visit, the two countries’ oil companies signed a gas deal worth $8 billion — the largest single investment in Libya’s energy […]
13 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
Lee Elder, 1st Black golfer to play Masters, dies at age 87