Lee Elder, a pioneer who broke through the color barrier at the Masters, has died. He was 87.
Elder’s death was confirmed by the PGA Tour on Monday (November 29).
In 1975, Elder played at the Masters, becoming the first Black player to play at round at the famed tournament and course located in Augusta, Georgia. He was honored earlier this year at the 2021 edition of the tournament, joining Jack Nickalus and Gary Player as honorary starters in the ceremonial first tee shot.
“I was shaking so badly, I did not know if I was even going to be able to tee up the ball,” he told CNN in 2015. “How I got through it I do not know, just with the help of the Almighty I got there and was able to put my ball on the tee.”
Elder broke into golf during a tenacious time in America regarding race relations. He became one of golf’s most recognizable faces, with a cost. At one tournament, he was forced to change in the sparkling after not being allowed access to dress in the clubhouse. At another tournament, his ball was hurled into a hedge by a spectator. He continued to receive intimidation and threats in the build-up to him playing the Masters and at one point considered not going.
“I did consider not going,” Elder said. “It was on my mind and I think the reason why I had thought about it was because it had been so difficult qualifying for the Masters. “I knew it was something I had wanted ever since I came on to the Tour. I think the reason why was there had been so much talk about no Black man playing at Augusta, and after all that, I wasn’t going to qualify and not go.”
However, Elder pushed forward and would eventually play at the Masters on five separate occasions, tying for 19th in 1977 and a personal-best 17th in 1979.
The PGA released a statement, saying his legacy would “live on.”
Elder would win four times on the PGA Tour during his career and had numerous career highlights outside of the Masters. He lost a memorable playoff to Nicklaus at Firestone his rookie season and he would join the PGA Champions Tour in the 1980s, winning nine times, including six of his first 26 starts.
His most proud moment was watching a 21-year-old Tiger Woods, born a few months after he broke the color barrier at Augusta, win the 1997 Masters.
“You would have thought I was winning the golf tournament,” Elder said. “To be there, to see what Tiger did, that meant the world to me.”