Lee Elder, first black golfer to play at the Masters, dies aged 87

Four-time PGA Tour winner was an honorary starter at this year’s tournament

Honorary starter Lee Elder (L) is acknowledged by the crowd along with Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus at the start of the first round of the 2021 Masters. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA

Honorary starter Lee Elder (L) is acknowledged by the crowd along with Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus at the start of the first round of the 2021 Masters. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA

 

Lee Elder, the pioneering golfer who broke several of the sport’s colour barriers, has died at the age of 87.

The PGA Tour confirmed Elder’s death on Monday. The most notable moment of his career occurred in 1975 when he became the first black golfer to play at the Masters, a tournament many saw as an embodiment of the racism and privilege that was a large part of the sport in America at the time. This year his contribution to the Masters was acknowledged when he joined Jack Nicklaus and and Gary Player as an honorary starter at the tournament.

In 2015, Elder told CNN that playing at the Masters for the first time was intimidating, particularly after he received death threats leading up to the tournament. One warned him that “he ought to check behind every tree” as he completed his round.

“It was frightening. You try to eliminate the possibility of anything happening,” he said. “That was part of the reason for renting two houses during the Masters week. The logic behind that was the fact we did not want the people to know where I was staying.”

Elder faced other problems as he established himself as a golfer in the 1960s and 70s. At one tournament he was forced to change in the parking lot after he was refused entry to the clubhouse. At another, a spectator threw his ball into the rough.

Elder won four tournaments on the PGA Tour and in 1979 he became the first black player to represent the US at the Ryder Cup. – Guardian

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