Lee Elder joins Nicklaus, Participant to open Masters

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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 eighty fifth 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 mentioned throughout a information convention shortly after. “For me and my household, I believe 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 enjoying right here the occasions that I’ve performed right here with lots of my mates which might 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), can 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 identify.

“Lee Elder is the primary Black man to compete within the Masters, and in doing so blazed a path that may encourage the sport of golf and future generations of gamers,” Ridley mentioned 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 mentioned. “At present, Lee Elder will encourage us and make historical past as soon as extra, not with a drive, however along with his presence, energy and character.

“Lee, it’s my privilege to say, ‘You may have 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 through the Fifties. After serving within the Military, he joined the United Golf Affiliation, a tour for Black gamers, profitable 18 of twenty-two 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 faculty. 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 believe that basically prompted my profession,” Elder mentioned. “I do know after that I started to blossom fairly nicely, and I believe that what occurred is that it actually modified my sport as a result of I knew that if I may play 5 additional holes with the good Jack Nicklaus, I knew that I had arrived and that I may play on the tour.”

Elder additionally has a detailed 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 suppose 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 mentioned.

Elder gained the 1971 Nigerian Open whereas visiting Africa.

“You’ll be able to think about at the moment in historical past how encouraging it was for a younger Black boy to see this champion enjoying, after which after all with Tiger Woods approaching, it was simply completely unbelievable for the folks of any colour world wide,” Participant mentioned.

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 passed off contained in the clubhouse, as an alternative 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 sort of astonished when that was introduced, {that a} Black participant hadn’t performed as a result of Lee had actually performed nicely sufficient, and he had Teddy Rhodes earlier than him and he had Charlie Sifford earlier than him and fellows who may nicely have performed, been invited to the Masters,” Nicklaus mentioned. “I assumed it was lengthy overdue when he lastly acquired invited.”

When Elder arrived in Augusta for the 1975 Masters, he rented two homes due to security considerations. He and his mates had been denied a meal at a restaurant due to their race, so the president of Paine Faculty organized for the college’s cafeteria employees to cook 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 mentioned. “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 acquired great ovations. I believe whenever you obtain one thing like that, it helps to settle [you] down. I am going to let you know, I used to be so nervous as we started play that it took me just a few holes to sort of relax.”

Elder missed the minimize by 4 strokes. Nicklaus gained his fifth inexperienced jacket by beating Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf by 1.

Elder performed within the Masters six occasions from 1975 to 1981, making the minimize 3 times. His finest end was a tie for seventeenth in 1979.

“I actually hope that the issues that I’ve completed have impressed quite a lot of younger Black gamers and they’re going to proceed on with it,” Elder mentioned.

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

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