Lee Elder, the first Black golfer to compete in the Masters, died on Monday at the age of 87, according to the PGA Tour.
At the 1975 edition of the famed tournament, Elder broke over Augusta’s race barrier.
He was an honorary starter at the 2021 Masters, with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, in the ceremonial first tee shot to start the event.
In 2015, Elder told CNN that making his Masters debut in Augusta, Georgia, was “very nerve-racking.”
“I was shaking so severely that I didn’t think I’d be able to tee up the ball,” he explained.
“I’m not sure how I got through it, but with the Almighty’s aid, I got there and was able to place my ball on the tee.”
Elder began his career in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, a famously tumultuous time for racial relations.
He became one of golf’s most famous faces as a result, but it came with its own set of issues.
He’d been forced to change in the parking lot after being denied admission to the clubhouse at one event, and his ball had been thrown into a hedge by a fan at another.
Elder endured intimidation and threats even in the year preceding up to his breakthrough Masters performance, many of which urged him not to come to Georgia and some of which made clear what would happen if he did.
“It was terrifying. You attempt to rule out any prospect of something bad happening “he stated
“That was one of the reasons we rented two residences for Masters week. We didn’t want anybody to know where I was living, thus that was the reasoning behind it.”
Elder had earned a spot in the Masters by winning an event in Pensacola, Florida.
However, given the negative reaction to his first of four PGA Tour victories, he questioned if accepting the invitation to the Masters was the best decision.
Elder admits, “I considered not attending.” “It had been on my mind, and I believe the reason I had considered it was because qualifying for the Masters had been so difficult.
It took him approximately a week to make up his decision, he claimed. “I’d known it was something I’d desired since joining the Tour.
“I suppose it was because there had been so much hoopla about no Black man playing at Augusta, and I wasn’t going to qualify and not attend.”
He returned five times after missing the cut the first time, tied with 19th place in 1977 and 17th place in 1979.
When Elder played in the US Ryder Cup team’s 17-11 victory over Europe in 1979, he became the first Black man to represent the country.
Renee Powell, the second Black woman to participate on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour and an acquaintance of Elder’s, expressed her sadness over the news on Facebook.
Powell explained, “Lee had phoned me last week about doing a project together this summer.”
“After winning the United Golfers Association (UGA) National in the same year, we decided to join our respective Tours.” The UGA was an amateur body of African-American golfers that had divisions for ladies, men, junior boys and girls, and a professional category for those who didn’t know. During the era of racial segregation in the United States, they ran a series of competitions.
“Over time, Lee and I became partners in the JC Penney Team Championship at Doral.” When Lee was named Honorary Starter with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to begin the Masters this year, I was proudly standing next to the first tee at Augusta National.”
In addition to his ground-breaking appearance, the Masters honored Elder in 2020 by announcing scholarships in his name at local institutions.
The Lee Elder Scholarships at Paine College, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Augusta, were announced by Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club. Each year, one scholarship will be given to a student athlete who participates on the men’s and women’s golf teams.