Lee Elder, 1st Black Golfer To Play In Masters, Dies At Age 87

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Elder broke down radical barriers and paved the mode for Tiger Woods and galore others to travel successful his footsteps.

Lee Elder played done the scourge of racism. He broke down tremendous barriers. He carved a way for Tiger Woods and others to follow. Finally, successful the waning months of his life, helium took his rightful spot astatine Augusta National. Alongside the greats.

Elder, who fought done galore obstacles to go the archetypal Black golfer to play successful the Masters, died astatine the property of 87, the PGA Tour announced Monday.

“The crippled of play mislaid a hero," 18-time large champion Jack Nicklaus said.

No origin of decease was given, but Elder had been successful mediocre wellness and wore an oxygen conduit erstwhile helium attended the Masters successful April.

The circuit said helium died aboriginal Sunday successful Escondido, California.

At this year's Masters, Elder was fixed the grant of hitting a ceremonial opening tee changeable alongside Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion, and Gary Player, who won the greenish overgarment 3 times.

Sadly, Elder was not good capable to instrumentality a plaything astatine a shot helium erstwhile deed with truthful overmuch power.

But helium stood concisely to admit the cheers of the gallery, holding up his driver, and watched proudly from a seat astatine the archetypal tee arsenic Nicklaus and Player deed the shots that traditionally unfastened the archetypal large title of the year.

“For maine and my family, I deliberation it was 1 of the astir affectional experiences that I person ever witnessed oregon been progressive in,” Elder said.

“That morning, you could spot the joyousness successful Lee’s face,” Nicklaus said Monday. “Gary Player and I were honored to bask that infinitesimal with him.”

A Texan who developed his crippled during segregated times portion caddying and hustling for rounds, Elder made past successful 1975 astatine Augusta National, which had held an all-white tourney until helium received an invitation aft winning the Monsanto Open the erstwhile year.

Elder missed the chopped astatine his archetypal Masters but everlastingly stamped himself arsenic a groundbreaking fig successful a athletics that had ne'er been known for radical tolerance.

Twenty-two years later, Woods became the archetypal Black golfer to seizure the greenish jacket, launching 1 of the top careers successful play history.

After Woods' grounds 12-stroke triumph successful 1997 — the archetypal of his 5 Masters titles and 15 large championships wide — helium reflected connected the contributions of Black golfers specified arsenic Elder and Charlie Sifford, the tour's archetypal Black player.

“I thought astir those guys coming up 18,” Woods said that evening. “I said a small supplication and said thanks. I wasn’t the first. I wasn’t the pioneer. I convey them. I deliberation that’s wherefore this triumph is adjacent much special. Lee, due to the fact that of what helium did, I was capable to play here. Because of Charlie, I was capable to play connected the PGA Tour. I lived my imagination due to the fact that of those guys.”

Fred Ridley, president of Augusta National and the Masters, called Elder “a existent pioneer successful the crippled of golf.”

Elder got into play arsenic a caddie, since that fundamentally was the lone conduit Black players had to beryllium permitted connected the course. He was capable to polish his crippled portion serving successful the Army and, aft his discharge, joined the United Golf Association Tour for Black players successful the aboriginal 1960s.

He developed into 1 of the UGA’s champion players, winning 18 of 22 tournaments successful 1 dominating stretch, but meager prize wealth made it pugnacious to gain a living. Finally, astatine the property of 33, Elder had saved up capable to spend PGA qualifying school, wherever helium earned his archetypal circuit paper for the 1968 season.

Elder would spell connected to seizure 4 PGA Tour victories and 8 much wins connected the PGA Tour Champions for 50-and-over players. He played successful each 4 large championships, tying for 11th astatine some the 1974 PGA Championship and the 1979 U.S. Open.

But Elder’s interaction connected the crippled went acold beyond wins and losses, adjacent if it took decades for his bequest to beryllium afloat appreciated.

Elder, who is survived by his wife, Sharon, was astatine Augusta National for Woods’ historical triumph successful 1997. He wasn’t astir to miss seeing a Black golfer triumph the tourney for the archetypal time.

After all, it was Elder who paved the way.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.