Washington, November 30 (AP) Lee Elder, who broke racial barriers as the first black golfer to play in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others, has died aged 87 .
The PGA Tour announced Elder’s death, which was first reported on Monday by Debert Cook of African American Golfers Digest. No cause was given, but the tour confirmed Elder’s death with his family.
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He was in poor health and had an oxygen tube under his nose when he showed up for the Masters opening in April. The tour said he died early Sunday in Escondido, Calif.
A Texan who developed his game during times of segregation while caddying, Elder made history in 1975 at Augusta National, which held an all-white tournament until he received an invite after playing. won the Monsanto Open the year before.
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Elder missed the cup on his first Masters, but forever established himself as a revolutionary figure in a sport never known for racial tolerance.
Twenty-two years later, Woods became the first black golfer to grab the green jacket, launching one of the greatest careers in golf history.
Last April, following social justice protests that rocked the nation, the Masters honored Elder by having him join Nicklaus and Gary Player for the opening ceremony tee shots.
Elder’s poor health kept him from taking a hit, but he proudly waved his driver to the first tee, clearly moved by the moment.
Elder got into golf as a caddy because it was essentially the only way black people could be allowed on the course. He was able to perfect his game while serving in the military, and after his release joined the United Golf Association Tour for Black Players in the early 1960s.
He went on to become one of the best players in the UGA, but meager cash prizes made it difficult to make a living. Finally, at the age of 33, Elder was able to afford a PGA qualifying school, where he obtained his first tour card for the 1968 season.
Elder would claim four PGA Tour wins and eight more PGA Tour Champions wins for players 50 and over. He played in all four major championships, tied for 11th place in the 1974 PGA Championship and the 1979 US Open.
His best result in six Masters appearances was a tie for 17th place in 1979.
But Elder’s impact on the game went far beyond wins and losses, though it took decades for his legacy to be fully appreciated.
Elder was 40 when he played in his first Masters, so many of his best years have already been stolen from him by the scourge of racism.
The PGA had an exclusively Caucasian rule until 1961 – 14 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. It took another 14 years before the Masters finally invited a black player.
Last year, before the pandemic-delayed Masters was first played in November, Augusta National officially recognized Elder’s enormous contributions by setting up two scholarships in his name at Paine College, a historically black school. in the city of eastern Georgia.
The club also invited him to take part in the teeing off ceremony with Nicklaus and Player at this year’s Masters.
Elder, who is survived by his wife, Sharon, was at the historic Augusta National for Woods victory in 1997. He was sure to see a black golfer win the tournament for the first time.
After all, it was Elder who led the way. (PA)
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