Photo credits: The Associated Press
On Sunday (November 28), Lee Elder (pictured) passed away. He was the first African-American to contend for a Masters golf championship. He died at the age of 87.
Elder played in 448 PGA Tour events and won four of them. His victory in the 1974 Monsanto Open qualified him for the 1975 Masters, whereupon he made history by becoming the first African-American golfer to participate. Elder got many death threats in the weeks leading up to his Augusta National appearance, which demonstrated how success can bring out the worst in individuals.
Due to the danger, he was forced to rent two residences throughout Masters week — in order to prevent Elder’s angry white tormentors from discovering his whereabouts. Elder shot 74 and 78 in the face of severe adversity, missing the cut. He would play in five further Masters events, his best finish a T-17 in 1979.
Augusta National released a statement in the fall of 2020 saying that it will recognize Elder’s legacy by naming him an Honorary Starter for the 2021 Masters, alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Elder, despite being unable to shoot an opening tee shot in April, joined Nicklaus and Player on the first tee.
Elder received the most passionate ovation of the three.
Elder was a pioneer not just in the Masters, but in other events as well. In 1979, he became the first African-American to compete in the Ryder Cup, earning a spot on the U.S. team. He also competed in the 1971 South African PGA Championship, the country’s first integrated competition, under apartheid regulations.
His accomplishments did not end on the golf greens. Elder raised money for the United Negro College Fund and established a scholarship for low-income young men and women seeking financial assistance for college. Additionally, he sat on the board of directors of Goodwill.
In 2020, Augusta National announced that it will sponsor the establishment of a women’s golf program at Paine College, an HBCU in Augusta, Georgia, as well as the Lee Elder Scholarships at Paine College.