Charlie Sifford broke barriers all his life. He was the first African-American to play the PGA and the first to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
There was a time when none of this seemed possible. Jackie Robinson’s courageous integration of Major League Baseball in 1946 is widely and appropriately credited for changing the American sports landscape forever. One year later, toughened by a tour of duty in the Army’s 24th Infantry, another young black man named Charlie Sifford told Robinson he planned to follow in his footsteps and compete in golf, a sport where the ball and the participants were equally as white.
“If you try hard enough, anything can happen.”
“He asked me if I was a quitter,” Sifford recalled. “He said, ‘OK, if you’re not a quitter, go ahead and take the challenge. If you’re a quitter, there’s going to be a lot of obstacles you’re going to have to go through to be successful in what you’re trying to do.’
“I made up my mind I was going to do it. I just did it. Everything worked out perfect, I think.”
It was Sifford who opened professional golf, a game with a “Caucasian only” rule, to blacks more than four decades ago. Without him, Tiger Woods would probably not have been able to make his own impact on the sports world. “He has my respect and my gratitude for the sacrifices he made to open the doors to this great game to people of color,” Woods said.
Born June 2, 1922, Sifford started in golf the only way a black kid growing up in North Carolina could in the 1930s – as a caddie. He earned 60 cents a day and gave his mom 50 cents and kept 10 cents to buy stogies, which became his trademark on the course. By 13, he could shoot par golf.
Sifford’s skin was tough enough to endure racial injustice and epithets. At the 1952 Phoenix Open, Sifford and his all-black foursome, which included the boxer Joe Louis, found excrement in the cup on the first hole, and waited nearly an hour for the cup to be replaced.