Lee Elder joins Jack Nicklaus, Gary Participant to open Masters


AUGUSTA, Ga. — Because the solar peeked over the tall Georgia pines on Thursday morning, Lee Elder joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Participant as honorary starters on the primary tee at Augusta Nationwide Golf Membership for the 85th version of the Masters.

Elder, 86, was pushed to the No. 1 tee in a cart. Utilizing a cane to stroll and an oxygen tank to assist him breathe, Elder did not hit a ceremonial tee shot like the previous champions.

It did not matter.

“I actually need to say thanks so very a lot for this nice alternative,” Elder stated throughout a information convention shortly after. “For me and my household, I feel it was probably the most emotional experiences that I’ve ever witnessed or been concerned in. It’s actually one thing that I’ll cherish for the remainder of my life as a result of I’ve beloved coming to Augusta Nationwide and taking part in right here the instances that I’ve performed right here with a lot of my associates which can be members right here.”

On the pandemic-delayed Masters in November, Augusta Nationwide Golf Membership chairman Fred Ridley introduced that Elder, the primary Black man to play within the Masters (in 1975), could be invited to affix Nicklaus and Participant as an honorary starter. The membership additionally endowed two scholarships at Paine Faculty, a close-by HBCU, in Elder’s title.

“Lee Elder is the primary Black man to compete within the Masters, and in doing so blazed a path that can encourage the sport of golf and future generations of gamers,” Ridley stated Thursday morning, whereas introducing Elder to a gallery of some hundred patrons.

Former Masters champions Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson and Cameron Champ, a Black golfer competing in his second Masters this week, stood shut by. So did a number of Black membership professionals who had been invited to the ceremony.

“They had been undoubtedly impressed by Lee Elder and his message that the sport of golf is for everybody,” Ridley stated. “At this time, Lee Elder will encourage us and make historical past as soon as extra, not with a drive, however along with his presence, power and character.

“Lee, it’s my privilege to say, ‘You have got the honors.'”

Elder, who grew up in Dallas, did not play a spherical of 18 holes till he was 16. He labored in professional retailers and locker rooms and caddied at golf programs that had been segregated in the course of the 1950s. After serving within the Military, he joined the United Golf Affiliation, a tour for Black gamers, profitable 18 of 22 occasions throughout one stretch.

In 1968, after saving the $6,500 required to affix the PGA Tour, Elder earned his tour card by ending ninth at Q-school. Throughout his rookie season, he misplaced to Nicklaus in a playoff on the American Golf Traditional, falling on the fifth gap of sudden loss of life at Firestone Nation Membership in Akron, Ohio.

“I feel that basically prompted my profession,” Elder stated. “I do know after that I started to blossom fairly properly, and I feel that what occurred is that it actually modified my recreation as a result of I knew that if I might play 5 further holes with the nice Jack Nicklaus, I knew that I had arrived and that I might play on the tour.”

Elder additionally has an in depth connection to Participant, a three-time Masters champion from South Africa. In 1971, Participant invited Elder to play within the South African PGA Championship in Johannesburg. Elder agreed to go, however provided that the South African authorities promised he would not be subjected to apartheid.

“It is fairly unhappy to assume that in these days, with the segregation coverage that South Africa had, that I needed to go to my president and get permission for Lee Elder to come back and play in our PGA,” Participant stated.

Elder gained the 1971 Nigerian Open whereas visiting Africa.

“You may think about at the moment in historical past how encouraging it was for a younger Black boy to see this champion taking part in, after which after all with Tiger Woods approaching, it was simply completely implausible for the individuals of any shade all over the world,” Participant stated.

Elder certified for the Masters by profitable the 1974 Pensacola Open for his first PGA Tour victory. Due to loss of life threats, the trophy ceremony came about contained in the clubhouse, as a substitute of on the 18th inexperienced. His Masters invitation got here 41 years after the primary match was performed in 1934, the identical 12 months he was born.

“I used to be type of astonished when that was introduced, {that a} Black participant hadn’t performed as a result of Lee had actually performed properly sufficient, and he had Teddy Rhodes earlier than him and he had Charlie Sifford earlier than him and fellows who might properly have performed, been invited to the Masters,” Nicklaus stated. “I assumed it was lengthy overdue when he lastly obtained invited.”

When Elder arrived in Augusta for the 1975 Masters, he rented two homes due to security issues. He and his associates had been denied a meal at a restaurant due to their race, so the president of Paine Faculty organized for the varsity’s cafeteria staff to prepare dinner for him the remainder of the week.

“The strongest reminiscence as I recall was how nervous I used to be going to the primary tee,” Elder stated. “However what I keep in mind a lot about my first go to right here was the truth that each tee and each inexperienced that I walked on, I obtained great ovations. I feel while you obtain one thing like that, it helps to settle [you] down. I will inform you, I used to be so nervous as we started play that it took me a number of holes to type of settle down.”

Elder missed the reduce by four strokes. Nicklaus gained his fifth inexperienced jacket by beating Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf by 1.

Elder performed within the Masters six instances from 1975 to 1981, making the reduce thrice. His finest end was a tie for 17th in 1979.

“I actually hope that the issues that I’ve finished have impressed numerous younger Black gamers and they’re going to proceed on with it,” Elder stated.

He was again on the No. 1 tee at Augusta Nationwide on Thursday, inspiring them as soon as once more.



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