AUGUSTA, Ga. – As the sun sees the towering Georgia pine on Thursday morning, Lee Elder joins Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as honorary starters in his debut at Augusta National Golf Club in its 85th edition. Masters
Elder, 86, was driven to the 1st platform in a wheelchair, using walking sticks and oxygen tanks to help him breathe. Elder did not hit a ceremonial shot like a former champion.
It doesn’t matter
“I want to thank you very much for this great opportunity,” the Elder said during a news conference shortly thereafter. “For me and my family, I think it’s one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever seen or taken part in. It’s something I will cherish all my life because I love coming to Augusta National and playing here. Play here with many friends who are members here. “
Augusta National Golf Club President Fred Ridley has announced that the first black male elder to play in the Masters (in 1975) will be invited to Nicklaus and Player as an honorary starter. The club is also offering two scholarships at Paine College, a nearby HBCU, on behalf of the Elder.
“Lee Elder was the first black man to compete in the Masters and in making a path that will inspire golf and future generations of players,” Ridley said Thursday morning while introducing the Elder. Make friends with the gallery of a few hundred patrons.
Former Masters Champion Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson and Cameron, the black golf champions competing in his second Masters this week, stood nearby, as did many Black club pros. Who were invited to attend the ceremony
“They were undoubtedly inspired by Lee Elder and his message that golf is for everyone,” Ridley said. “Today Senior Lee will inspire us and make history again. Not by force But with his appearance, strength and character
“Lee is my prerogative to say that. ‘You have an honor.’ ”
The Elder, who grew up in Dallas, didn’t play an 18-hole round until the age of 16.He worked in a professional shop and locker room and was locked up in a separate golf course in the 1950s after taking. Used in the Army, he participated in the United Golf Association Tour for Black Players, winning 18 of 22 in one session.
In 1968, after saving $ 6,500 to attend the PGA Tour, Elder received a Tour Ticket at the ninth place at School Q during his rookie season.He lost to Nicklaus in the semifinals at American Golf. The Classic dropped a fifth hole from sudden death at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
“I think that really motivated my career,” said Elder. “I knew after that I started to blossom really well and I think what happened was it really changed my game because I knew if I could play five extra holes with the great Jack Nicklaus, I knew. That I arrived and that I can play on the tour. “
Elders also have a close relationship with Player, a three-time Masters Champion from South Africa in 1971. Players invited elders to the PGA Championship in South Africa in Johannesburg. Schlossberg Elder agreed to go. But if the South African government promises he will not be apartheid
“It was quite sad to think that at that time, with the discrimination policy that South Africa had, I had to go to the president and get Lee Elder permission to play in our PGA,” the player said.
Elders win the 1971 Nigerian Open while visiting Africa.
“At that time, you can imagine how encouraging this black kid was to see this champion play, and of course, when Tiger Woods came in, it was great for people of all colors around the world,” the player said.
The Elder qualified for the Masters by winning the 1974 Pensacola Open in his first PGA Tour victory. Due to the threat of death, the trophy ceremony took place inside the clubhouse instead of the 18th green.His Master’s invitation came 41 years after the first tournament was played in 1934, the same year he was born.
“I was very surprised when it was announced that the black players were not playing because Lee was definitely playing well enough and that he had Teddy Rhodes before him and he had Charlie Sifford in front of him. He and his friends who play well are Was invited to the Masters, “Nicklaus said.” I think it was long overdue when he finally received the invitation. “
When Elder arrived in Augusta for a master’s degree in 1975, he rented two houses for safety concerns.He and his friends were denied eating at the restaurant due to race, so the president of Paine College arranged for workers. In the school cafeteria, cook him food for the rest of the week.
“The strongest memory I can remember is how nervous I was to go to the first podium,” the Elder said. “But what I remember a lot about coming here for the first time is the fact that every and every green I walk, I get a lot of applause. Like that, it will help to pay [you] Down. I’ll tell you I was really nervous when we started playing, it took me a few holes to calm down. ”
The elder missed a four-stroke cut.Nicklaus won the fifth Green, beating Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf by 1 point.
Elders have played in the Masters six times since 1974. From 1975 to 1981 with three amputations. His best performance was tied at 17 in 1979.
“I hope what I do will inspire many black youth players and that they will continue to do so,” Elder said.
He returned to the No. 1 T-shirt at Augusta National on Thursday, which inspired them once again.