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Lee Elder has his day in the sun at the Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The ovation started as Lee Elder approached the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club in a golf cart and reached a crescendo as he stood with the assist of a cane and waved his proper hand.

“Today Lee Elder will inspire us and make history once more,” Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley mentioned. “Lee, you have the honors.”

Elder, 86, who makes use of oxygen to help his respiration, had a full set of golf golf equipment at his disposal and used a driver for steadiness, however he was unfit to hit a shot. When he took a seat to a different spherical of applause, he mentioned, “That feels good.”

“I was so afraid that was going to happen,” his spouse, Sharon mentioned. “He just didn’t feel well at all this morning.”

None of that mattered. This second – lengthy overdue – belonged to Elder, a trailblazer in each sense of the phrase, and he soaked all of it in.

“I think it was one of the most emotional experiences that I have ever witnessed or been involved in,” Elder mentioned. “It is certainly something that I will cherish for the rest of my life because I have loved coming to Augusta National.”

They all got here to see Elder in his mint-green shirt on the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club another time. Masters champions Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Charles Coody and Nick Faldo and fellow contestants Corey Conners and Cameron Champ, one among the few minorities on the PGA Tour and lone Black consultant in the 88-man subject.

“It’s been a very long time since I’ve come to this,” Faldo mentioned of the honorary starter ceremony. “But I didn’t want to miss this one.”

Neither did Melvin, a employee at the Augusta National clubhouse with his uniform and nameplate intact, as did NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann and his fellow Augusta National member Condoleezza Rice, each wanting resplendent in their inexperienced jackets. Rice, for one, begged out of a possible battle to be there.

“I texted that I’d like to be on the tee,” Rice mentioned.

Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus have been there, too, in their conventional roles as First Tee Starters, however they have been overshadowed by Elder, who discovered to play the recreation crosshanded as a caddie in rural Dallas. Ted Rhodes, one other black pioneer who served as a mentor, modified him to a standard grip and he’d go on to dominate the United Golf Association, the tour for blacks in the period of the PGA’s Caucasian-only rule, earlier than incomes his PGA Tour card in 1967, profitable 4 occasions and qualifying for the 1979 U.S. Ryder Cup staff.



Honorary starter Gary Player greets Jack Nicklaus at the 1st tee throughout the first spherical of The Masters. (Photo: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)

“I wanted it so badly,” Elder as soon as informed Golfweek. “When I first qualified for the Tour, in 1967, I said I wanted to get that one thing that had not been accomplished out of the way. The Masters was the one tournament that hadn’t been integrated.”

Two years earlier than Elder certified, a bunch of politicians urged Augusta National to ask Elder, however their request was rebuffed.

“We are a little surprised as well as being flattered that 18 Congressmen should be able to take time out to help us operate a golf tournament,” Augusta National co-founder Clifford Roberts wrote. “…We feel certain someone has misinformed the distinguished lawmakers, because there is not and never has been player discrimination, subtle or otherwise.”

Elder earned his technique to the Masters holing an 18-foot birdie putt on the fourth playoff to beat Peter Oosterhuis in the 1974 Monsanto Open at Pensacola Country Club in Florida, at the similar course the place a couple of years earlier he had been refused entrance into the clubhouse and adjusted his footwear in the car parking zone. To perceive the world at the time it is very important do not forget that Elder was whisked away to the clubhouse, and for good motive.

“I didn’t know why until we got in the car and they said they had received calls that if I won they were going to kill me,” Elder mentioned. “We got so many calls like that.”

More: Lee Elder’s honors shine spotlight on quest for more Black representation in golf

During the week of the 1975 Masters, he bounced between two rental homes simply to be secure, and stayed up late with mates taking part in playing cards and attempting to wrap his head round what it meant to interrupt the shade barrier at the Masters.

“My friend said to me, ‘Do you really know how much you’ve done?’ I said, ‘I feel like I do. I feel like I made a contribution to society.’ They said, ‘No, my man, you’re breaking the barrier that had been in existence for a long time,’ ” Elder recalled.

On a misty morning, 36 years in the past Elder wore inexperienced pants, a inexperienced shirt and a inexperienced sweater. He was requested if he’d like a rainsuit. “And mess up this pretty green?” Elder mentioned.

What he remembered most from that fateful day when he shot 74 throughout his Masters debut wasn’t all that completely different from the response he skilled another time right now.

“Every tee and every green that I walked on, I got tremendous ovations,” he mentioned. “I think when you receive something like that, it helps to settle down, because I’ll tell you, I was so nervous as we began play that it took me a few holes to kind of calm down.”

All these years later, Nicklaus remembers being “astonished” {that a} Black participant hadn’t performed in the Masters but, given the expertise of the likes of Rhodes, Pete Brown and Charlie Sifford, and that Elder could be the first.

“I thought it was long overdue when he finally got invited,” Nicklaus.

So was this celebration of Elder.

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