Black golfers such as Pete Brown, Lee Elder, Ann Gregory, Althea Gibson and Tiger Woods all owe their careers to golf pioneer Charlie Sifford.
Sifford, the first Black golfer to play on the once all-white PGA Tour, died this past Tuesday. He was 92. Sifford was born June 2, 1922 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Sifford worked as a golf caddy as a teen before picking up the sport. Because the PGA Of America remained a whites-only organization, Black golfers organized their own tournaments in the ’30’s and ’40’s.
Sifford played in several of these tournaments, also serving as a golfing coach for jazz band leader, Billy Eckstine. Sifford tried to break the color barrier in 1952 after he attempting to qualify for the PGA Tour at the Phoenix Open. Boxing legend Joe Louis arranged Sifford’s invitation but Sifford was still subjected to death threats and other vile forms of racism during his path in fighting for racial equality in the sport.
After Sifford challenged the whites-only clause of the PGA Tour, it changed the rule in 1961. Sifford went on to win the Greater Hartford Open in 1967 and the Los Angeles Open in 1969. In 1975, Sifford won the Senior PGA Championship five years before the current Champions Tour for older golfers was created. Sifford was never invited to play in the Masters tournament, which didn’t invite its first Black player, the aforementioned Elder, until 1975.
In a statement released Wednesday, Woods credited Sifford for inspiring him and his love of the game. Popular white golfers such as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer supported Sifford during his journey and praised him for his courage. In 2004, Sifford was the first Black golfer inducted into the World Golf Hall Of Fame.
Last November, President Barack Obama awarded Sifford with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.