The moment was meant to be Lee Elder’s.
The 86-year-old sat on the first tee at Augusta National on Thursday morning, quietly listening to Course President Fred Ridley read him a short introduction, calling him a creator of inspiration and history. He had, finally, been brought back to be an honorary starter, along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
And there, over his left shoulder, a caddy in a white jumpsuit, Player’s caddy and his not-so-surreptitiously son Wayne were holding a black sleeve of golf balls, the sleeve logo shooting at behind closed doors, spoiling what was meant to be a time. finally celebrate a man who received death threats just for participating in the tournament 46 years ago. Everyone else on the tee with Elder stood behind him respectfully.
Elder is the first black man who was allowed to play in the Masters, a tournament held in a course that steadfastly refuses to join many of us in the 21st century. So intense was the hatred directed its way into the run-up to the 1975 Masters that Elder rented two houses in Augusta for that week, staying in both, doing his best to keep his whereabouts a secret, in case anyone else had. threatened with harm would be in town to deal with their threat.
He was threatened with death – the end of his life – for playing a game. For daring to play a game White believed in, and if the current PGA tour lineup and pretty much every quartet of your nearest course are still an indication, it is theirs and theirs alone. To be good enough at swinging clubs, not just wearing them.
Like so many other black athletes, Elder had to persevere through hardships big and small when he left the comfort of the United Golfers Association, formed for African-American golfers when the PGA was explicitly reserved for whites, and began to integrate tournaments.
He played at clubs in countries that did not allow him to use dressing rooms for dressing, such as the one in Pensacola, Fla., Where he won the 1974 Monsanto Open and secured a berth at the ’75 Masters. .
He was turned away by an empty Augusta restaurant and said, “We cannot serve you here.”
His ball suddenly disappeared from the fairway during a round in Memphis.
A late-night phone call was made to his hotel room, also in Memphis, the city that killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and resulted in Elder ending the tournament with a police escort.
What made Thursday morning’s blow all the more painful was that Gary Player, who is white, once invited Elder to Player’s native South Africa for a tournament there in 1971 in his mid-life era. apartheid, going to the country’s president to get Elder’s permission. to play.
Expressing an astonishing lack of awareness and deafness in tone, Gary Player said after the ceremony this elder has “experienced a lot of things that I have experienced in my life.” Unless Player means that he and Elder are both golfers who have played a lot of golf, it is impossible to see what Player and Elder “experiences” have in common.
And still Wayne Player (whose move to Masters in 2018 led to a civil lawsuit and arrest) did what he could to peddle those golf balls, the ones his father not only approves of, but also invested in. the company that manufactures them, taking care away from the Old time in the morning sun.
A representative from OnCore said he did not ask the player to “see our sleeve of the ball” during the ceremony.
The elder’s moment came far too late, with his health such that he couldn’t use his driver except as a cane to help him get up to recognize the crowd. A moment that a cynic would say has come only because of the events of the past 10 months, with America having a so-called racial calculus, with the focus on trying to achieve fairness so strong that even Augusta National couldn’t. ignore it.
Pioneer or not, surviving 86 years as a black man in this country makes someone a hell of a hero, to paraphrase Dave Chapelle.
Elder deserved to soak up his moment without incident, without photos or video of it forever tainted by a tasteless attention grab.
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