Remembering Lee Elder, A Trailblazer Who Broke Barriers In Golf – BOTWC

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Remembering Lee Elder, A Trailblazer Who Broke Barriers In Golf

Remembering Lee Elder, A Trailblazer Who Broke Barriers In Golf

We've gained another honorable ancestor.

The first Black golfer to play at the Masters,  Lee Elder, has joined the ancestors. He was 87. The PGA Tour announced his passing via Twitter Monday morning.

Elder was born in 1934 in Dallas, Texas. His parents died when he was young, leaving his sister to run the household, according to Black Past. Elder was drawn to golf to create extra income for the family. He learned the ropes while caddying at the all-white Tenison Park Golf Club in Dallas, where one of the lead golf pros taught him how to play. As his skills grew, he was noted by "Titanic" Thompson, who became his financial backer, which allowed him to play in tournaments and develop his skills.

By 1959, he joined the all-Black United Golfers Association. He dominated the sport, winning four Negro National Open Championships, and in 1966, Elder won 18 of the 22 tournaments he played. He used the winnings from these tournaments to pay the $6,500 needed to enter the 1967 qualifying school for the PGA Tour.

In 1971, he became the first Black player invited to the South African PGA Tournament. This was the first integrated sports event in South Africa since Apartheid was established in 1948. He went on to become a four-time PGA Tour winner who made his historic debut at the Augusta National in 1975, according to Golf Digest.

He played in five Masters and 34 major championships, where he had seven top-25 finishes. Elder's many victories on the golf course include the 1974 Monsanto Open - which gained him entry to the 1975 Masters - the 1976 Houston Open, the 1978 Greater Milwaukee Open, and the 1978 American Express Westchester Classic. His best finish at a major was T11 at the 1974 PGA Championship and again at the 1979 U.S. Open. He became the first Black player in the Ryder Cup when he made the American team that same year.

"As I look back over the accomplishments I've had in my life," Elder told Golf Digest in 2020, "the one thing that I'm proudest of is playing in the Ryder Cup and representing my country."

The golf icon faced discrimination and death threats as he cleared a path for golfers like Tiger Woods to come behind him. After Woods completed his historic win at the 1997 Augusta National, he said he was thinking about Elder as he went through the course.

"I wasn't the pioneer. Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, and Teddy Rhodes paved the way," Woods told reporters. "I was thinking about them and what they've done for me as I was coming up the 18th fairway. I said a little prayer and a thanks to those guys. They are the ones who did it for me."

Elder was also a champion off the green. He created a scholarship for students from low-income households who needed money for college, served on the board for Goodwill, and raised money for the United Negro College Fund.

In 2020, the Augusta National announced they would create a women's golf program at the Historically Black College And University, Paine College, and establish the Lee Elder Scholarships at the school in his honor. 

His legacy of greatness will not be forgotten.

Photo Credit: The New Zealand Times