Lee Elder: An Inspiration for Golfers to Come


Sofia Cruz

Renowned for breaking the color barrier in the sport of golf and for being the first African-American golfer to ever compete at the Masters the sports world lost Lee Elder on Nov. 9.

Andres Rodriguez, Staff Writer

Among the many athletes of the past that have shaped the sports world as it is known today is Lee Elder, the first African-American golf player to compete in the Masters Tournament, one of the four major golf championships held year-round.

Elder is recognized for breaking the color barrier in the sport of golf, paving the way for African-American athletes such as Tiger Woods to make a name for themselves and be successful. Sadly, this sports figure passed away on Nov. 29 in Escondido, Calif. leaving his mark on the sports world.

Elder was first introduced to golf as a teenager and began playing around the age of 16. Early on, he served as a caddie and later began playing professionally. In 1961, Elder joined the United Golfers Association, a group of black golfers that played in separate tournaments during the era of racial segregation. He became one of the UGA’s most dominant players, winning five championships throughout his career.

Despite his success on the golf course, Elder found it difficult to make a living off the meager sums of prize money awarded by the UGA. At age 33, he decided to move into the big leagues as he tried out for the Professional Golfer’s Association of America. Eventually, by the 1968 season, Elder was able to qualify for the PGA while earning his tour card.

“Lee Elder definitely set the standard for future African-American athletes. He influenced many people such as Tiger Woods and therefore set them up for success,” senior Thais Forbes said.

After spending seven years on the PGA Tour, Elder kept improving and breaking boundaries in every tournament he played in. For example, he placed second in the 1972 Texas Open after losing to golfer Lee Trevino as well as winning the 1974 Monsanto Open at the Pensacola Country Club in Florida.

Finally, in 1975, Elder was given the opportunity to compete in the Masters Tournament, one of the four major championships, held in Augusta, Ga. His appearance at the tournament was risky as he received death threats as a result of racial discrimination within the sport. Nevertheless, he kept swinging and ended up competing in the first two rounds of the event before being eliminated, preventing him from advancing into the final rounds in the tournament.

Elder spent his next few years accumulating more and more wins with the association. In fact, he would end his career with four wins under his belt on the PGA tour. Elder also went on to play in all four major championships; his best performances were at the 1974 PGA Championship and the 1979 U.S. Open where he earned 11th place, a great deal for a black golfer at the time.

“Lee Elder has inspired some of the best golfers ever, the most notable being Tiger Woods, one of the best golfers of all time. Without [his] breakthrough, players like Woods would have never had a chance to display their talents and show the world that they were good golfers,” freshman Lorenzo Cantarel said.

Elder was one of the most influential golfers when it came to breaking color barriers in golf. His legacy has carried on and been acknowledged by several individuals across the sport such as chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club and Masters who called Elder “a true pioneer in the game of golf”.

Thanks to his efforts in helping to get rid of the color barrier, several black golfers have been able to live out their dreams, such as Tiger Woods, who became the first African-American to win any of professional golf’s four championships.

The Augusta National Golf Club honored Elder by naming him a starter for the 2021 Masters Tournament. He, along with golfers Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, was granted the privilege of striking the tournament’s first ceremonial shots.

Although Elder may be gone, his impact on the sport of golf will be everlasting as he fought to get rid of the color barrier in the sport. His legacy will continue to empower the hearts of sports fans across the nation and be an inspiration for many golfers to come.

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