Lee Elder, first Black golfer to play in Masters, dies at age 87

Sadye Matula

Lee Elder, who broke down racial limitations as the 1st Black golfer to engage in in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others to comply with, has died at the age of 87. The PGA Tour declared Elder’s demise Monday. No result in or facts were […]

Lee Elder, who broke down racial limitations as the 1st Black golfer to engage in in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others to comply with, has died at the age of 87.

The PGA Tour declared Elder’s demise Monday. No result in or facts were being straight away out there, but the tour stated it confirmed Elder’s demise with his household.

He had been in poor overall health and wore an oxygen tube beneath his nose when he appeared at the opening of the Masters in April. The tour mentioned he died early Sunday in Escondido, California.

“Lee was a fantastic player, but most vital, a great male who was quite very well revered by a great number of folks,” Jack Nicklaus wrote on his Twitter account. “The match of golf lost a hero in Lee Elder.”

A indigenous Texan who developed his activity through segregated instances though caddying, Elder created record in 1975 at Augusta Nationwide, which experienced been an all-white match till he gained an invitation after successful the Monsanto Open the previous calendar year.

Elder missed the slash at his to start with Masters but stamped himself as a groundbreaking figure in a sport that experienced in no way been recognized for racial tolerance.

Twenty-two years later, Woods became the to start with Black golfer to capture the eco-friendly jacket, launching a single of the biggest occupations in golfing record.

This previous April, in the wake of social justice protests that roiled the country, the Masters honored Elder by having him be part of Nicklaus and Gary Player for the ceremonial opening tee shots.

Elder was in poor wellness and unable to just take a swing, but he held up his driver proudly at the 1st tee, plainly moved by the instant.

“For me and my relatives, I assume it was one of the most psychological activities that I have at any time witnessed or been included in,” he said.

Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta Nationwide Golfing Club and the Masters, called Elder “a accurate pioneer in the game of golf.”

“We are deeply saddened to discover of the passing of Lee Elder,” Ridley said in a assertion. “Lee was an inspiration to so lots of young adult males and women of colour not only through his participate in, but also via his motivation to instruction and local community. Lee will usually be a element of the heritage of the Masters Event. His existence will be sorely missed, but his legacy will continue to be celebrated.”

Elder acquired into golf as a caddie, considering the fact that that in essence was the only conduit Black people experienced to be permitted on the system. He was capable to polish his video game whilst serving in the Army and, just after his discharge, joined the United Golfing Association Tour for Black players in the early 1960s.

He formulated into just one of the UGA’s very best players, but meager prize funds manufactured it difficult to gain a residing. Ultimately, at 33, Elder was in a position to find the money for PGA qualifying faculty, exactly where he acquired his to start with tour card for the 1968 time.

The emphasize of his rookie calendar year was a unforgettable loss to Nicklaus on the fifth hole of a sudden-loss of life playoff at the American Golf Basic.

Elder would go on to capture 4 PGA Tour victories and 8 much more wins on the PGA Tour Champions for 50-and-more than players. He played in all 4 main championships, tying for 11th at each the 1974 PGA Championship and the 1979 U.S. Open. His most effective finish at the Masters was a tie for 17th, also in 1979.

But Elder’s effect on the sport went considerably past wins and losses, even if it took many years for his legacy to be absolutely appreciated.

“It normally astonished me that presidents of the United States would be giving these various awards to athletes for their athletic prowess, and here was a male that … was by no means supplied the awards that he in fact duly deserved,” Player explained.

Elder was 40 when he played in his to start with Masters, so several of his primary many years presently stolen from him by the scourge of racism.

The PGA experienced a Caucasian-only rule right up until 1961 — 14 a long time right after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s colour barrier. It took a different 14 years for the Masters to invite a Black player.

Past calendar year, right before the pandemic-delayed Masters was performed in November for the initially time, Augusta National identified Elder’s monumental contributions by placing up two scholarships in his identify at Paine Faculty, a traditionally Black school in Augusta.

The club also invited him to get aspect in the ceremonial tee shot with Nicklaus and Participant.

“It can be a good honor, and I cherish it extremely a great deal, and I will generally cherish it,” Elder claimed.

Nicklaus added, “It was prolonged overdue.”

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

Aaron strike his file-breaking 715th homer on April 8, 1974.

Twelve times later on, Elder received the Monsanto Open to qualify for the pursuing year’s Masters.

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

“We talked about several matters … our sports, our certain activity and the involvement that we felt that we could aid other youthful Blacks that was coming up driving us,” Elder mentioned. “And I certainly hope that the factors that I have completed have motivated a great deal of youthful Black players and they will proceed on with it.”

Elder was at Augusta National for Woods’ historic gain in 1997.

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