Masters: Lee Elder’s Honors Highlight Quest for Greater Black Representation in Golf


AUGUSTA, Georgia – Lee Elder was a pioneer in integrating golf.

Yet 46 years after breaking through the color barrier on golf’s biggest stage, players in the game say there is still work to be done to develop and diversify golf.

“I think there is still a lot of work; a lot of work to do. I just think people need to come together and understand where we are at, where the game is going and where it is going, ”said Cameron Champ, a 25-year-old biracial player on the PGA Tour. “Obviously, COVID has brought new light to the game, but in order for it to grow and to see more minorities and people of color here something has to change.”

In recent months, Dr Lee Elder, who received an honorary doctorate from Paine College on Tuesday, has once again resurfaced as a leading figure in golf diversification.

It made perfect sense for him to join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player – who helped Elder break through the color barrier for the first time at the South African PGA Championship – as honorary starters in the 85th Masters Tournament.

“Tomorrow morning, we’ll also reflect on the time at Augusta National in 1975 when Lee Elder bravely broke down barriers as his name was announced off the first tee,” Masters president Fred Ridley said at his press conference on Wednesday. The ceremony is set for 7:45 a.m.ET.

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Pictures: Lee Elder at the Masters | Cameron Champ at the Masters

Champ, who will play his second consecutive Masters, said it was important for Elder to be a symbol of black success on the course.

“For us, these are the people that I admire,” said Champ. “I know who my grandfather did. So it certainly means a lot, again, to learn from him and sort of – sort of pick things out and just pick his brain.

Elder was the first black man to play in the South African PGA Championship during apartheid in 1971. Elder then became the first black golfer to play in the Masters in 1975.

After the Augusta National Golf Club announced in November that it would endow two scholarships in Elder’s name in Paine and help launch a women’s golf program, Champ said he was inspired to help Prairie View A&M, a historically black university just outside of Houston.

Thanks to the efforts of Champ and Augusta National as well as basketball superstar Stephen Curry who helped Howard’s golf program, there has been a visible increase in support for golf opportunities for people of color. .

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“We’re just doing a little bit of what we can do with our resources and the people we know, but with the Tour and like I said Augusta is doing a lot of things and a lot of other organizations it’s going to take a any community to be able to bring it back to where I think it needs to be and where a lot of people probably think it needs to be, ”Champ said.

Elder added that there was also a need for corporate help.

“Black youth who are trying to reach these heights, they don’t have it right now because they don’t have the financial backing that will help them reach that height,” Elder said. “So I’m hoping more of the corporate world will look at them and take the necessary steps to make sure they help them get to this point, because that’s what we need. . “

Since Elder, there have been five black players to play in the Masters.

In 1997, Tiger Woods became the first black golfer to win the Masters. He went on to win four more green jackets, most recently in 2019. Elder was in attendance for Woods’ premiere.

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Golf has come a long way since 1975. With all the milestones set and barriers crossed by Elder, it is the perfect example of a change in a predominantly white sport.

After the 1997 victory, Earl Woods said Woods’ victory “would open a lot of doors.” Since Woods’ historic victory, Champ is the only black golfer to win on the PGA Tour and to appear in the Masters.

BMW Championship

BMW Championship

Cameron Champ at the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club. (Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

And there is still room for improvement.

“Obviously I like it because it’s who I am, but it’s just like, I have to do it,” Champ said of being a voice on the PGA Tour. “Again, this is a subject, once again, that has not been raised since it all happened. He’s just pushed back like he always does.

“I’m just trying to keep it going and trying to create more foundation around it to start it up and build it because, like I said … social injustice or equality or race – we only speak when bad incidents happen, which is a bit unfortunate. You know, like I said, you just have to keep pushing.


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