Charlie Sifford, the first black golfer on PGA tour, dies

Charlie Sifford challenged "whites only" rule in the PGA.

The first black golfer to play on the PGA tour died on Tuesday night, aged 92.

Charlie Sifford was also the first African American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame after he successfully campaigned against the PGA Tour’s Caucasian-only clause in 1961.

PGA of America President Derek Sprague said: “His love of golf, despite many barriers in his path, strengthened him and he became a beacon for diversity in our game. By his courage, Dr Sifford inspired others to follow their dreams. Golf was fortunate to have had this exceptional American in our midst.”

Sifford received an honorary doctorate from the University of St Andrews for his pioneering career, during which he endured racial taunts and threats.

He won the Greater Hartford Open in 1967 and the Los Angeles Open in 1969. He also won the 1975 Senior PGA Championship, but was denied a chance to play in the Masters, which did not invite its first black player until Lee Elder in 1975.

Speaking to the New York Times in 1992, Elder said: “Without Charlie Sifford, there would have been no one to fight the system. It too a special person to take the things he took – the tournaments that barred him, the black cats in his bed, the hotels where couldn’t stay.

“Myself, I don’t think I could have taken it because I’m a little too thin-skinned. Charlie was tough and hard.”

‘If I did something crazy, there would never be any blacks playing.’ Tiger Woods remarked: “It’s not an exaggeration to say that without Charlie, and the other pioneers who fought to play, I may not playing golf. My pop likely wouldn’t have picked up the sport and maybe I wouldn’t have either.”

During the 1952 Phoenix Open, one of the few events that blacks could play, Sifford found human faces in the cup when he got to the first green. He encountered racism on the course, such as when his ball was kicked from the fairway into the rough. At the Greater Greensboro Open in his home state of North Carolina he received death threats over the phone, but refused to quit.

“If I hadn’t acted like a professional when they sent me out, if I did something crazy, there would never be any blacks playing,” he once said. “I toughed it out. I’m proud of it. All those people were against me, and I’m looking down on them now.”

Sifford first shot par aged 13, while working as a caddie at the Carolina Country Club. He played on Mondays, when the course was closed to members, and developed a short swing as he played in constant fear of being thrown of the course.

At 17, he was told to stay away from the club by its owner Sutton Alexander. Speaking to the Atlanta Constitution, Sifford explained: “I had gotten too good and the members didn’t like it. Mr Alexander was concerned about my physical well-being.”

For more golf news, discussion and videos follow @NCGmagazine on Twitter, like us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube video channel, and sign up to our newsletter

Previous article
Next article