The Great Charles Sifford

The Great Charles Sifford

Charles Sifford, the first Black golfer to compete on the PGA Tour, died 2/3/15. He was 92.

Charles Sifford Swing

Known as the “Jackie Robinson of golf,” Sifford first competed in PGA-sanctioned events after the Caucasian-only PGA of America membership clause was eliminated in 1961, and like Robinson faced overt racism in his quest to play professional golf. Before he could join PGA events, Sifford honed his game playing in the United Golf Association, a circuit established in the 1920s by Black golfers which allowed all golfers to play.

In November, Sifford was among 18 Americans to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Charles Sifford and Barack Obama

He was the first African-American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004.

Sifford always wanted to play the Masters, but never did. The Masters did not invite its first black player until Lee Elder in 1975. Sifford said he felt better about his Masters snubs when Woods won the first of his four green jackets in 1997.

World Golf Hall of Fame historian Tony Parker credited Sifford for opening doors for more than Black golfers, and Tiger Woods told the Associated Press via email he may never have taken up the game had it not been for Sifford and Ted Rhodes and Bill Spiller.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that without Charlie, and the other pioneers who fought to play, I may not be playing golf,” Tiger Woods has said. “My pop likely wouldn’t have picked up the sport, and maybe I wouldn’t have either.”

Charles Sifford-Tiger-Woods

Sifford won PGA Tour events in 1967 and 1969 and captured the 1975 PGA Seniors’ Championship.

And from the Associated Press

The road was never easy.

Sifford was born on June 22, 1922, in Charlotte, North Carolina. He worked as a caddie and dominated the all-black United Golfers Association, winning five straight national titles. He longed to play against the best players, only to run into the same barriers that Teddy Rhodes and Bill Spiller faced — the Caucasian-only clause.

In his autobiography, “Just Let Me Play,” Sifford told of meeting Robinson in California about the time Robinson was trying to break the color barrier in baseball.

“He asked me if I was a quitter,” Sifford wrote. “I told him no. He said, ‘If you’re not a quitter, you’re probably going to experience some things that will make you want to quit.’”

During the 1952 Phoenix Open, one of the few events in which blacks could play, Sifford found human feces in the cup when he got to the first green. He received death threats over the phone at the 1961 Greater Greensboro Open and heard racial slurs as he walked the fairways. He finished fourth, and didn’t quit.

He was beloved by some of golf’s biggest stars, including Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

Charles Sifford Golfing

During his induction ceremony, Sifford told of his first meeting with Palmer. They were playing in the 1955 Canadian Open and Sifford opened with a 63 to lead Palmer by one shot. He recalled Palmer standing in front of the scoreboard saying, “Charlie Sifford? How the hell did he shoot 63?”

“I’m standing right behind him,” Sifford said. “I said, ‘The same damn way you shot 64.’ That’s how we met.”

Sifford also received an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland for his career as a pioneer.

He often attended the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, not far from his home in Ohio. During an interview with the AP in 2000, Sifford said he was proud of the role in played in making the PGA Tour accessible to blacks.

“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 said. “I toughed it out. I’m proud of it. All those people were against me, and I’m looking down on them now.”

—AP

To learn more about African-Americans in golf this is a great book for it.

Uneven Lies: The Heroic Story of African-Americans in Golf

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