In 1903, black boxer Jack Johnson was forced to travel halfway around the globe to Australia for the chance to fight for the heavyweight world title, it took until 1920 for Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall to become the first black players in what was then the NFL and it wasn’t until 1947 that Jackie Robinson broke the colour line in Major League Baseball.
A grim reflection on sport and diversity in the 20th century and one that makes it all the more unsettling that it took until 1975 for the first black golfer to tee off at the Masters.
Lee Elder is a golfing trailblazer and everyone should remember his name.
Born in 1934 and the youngest of 10 children, Elder was orphaned at the age of 9 after his father was killed in Germany during World War II and with his mother passing just three months later.
In a bid to secure additional income for his siblings, Elder secured work at an all-white local golf course in Dallas. At first, he was too small to caddy so was hired to collect stray balls until he was big enough to carry the bags
Eventually, he became the bread-winner in his house, earning $4 a day caddying, and it was then where he became a popular figure among some of the club’s members and they would even allow the young man to slip into the club after-hours to practice his own swing.
In 1961 after a stint in the army and with golf still segregated, Elder joined the all-black United Golfers Association where he’d dominate the scene for nearly a decade claiming four Negro National Open Championships and in 1966 he sensationally lost just 4 of the 22 tournaments he played in that year.
The first piece of history Lee Elder would make was in 1971, where his participation in the South African PGA Tournament meant he was involved in the first integrated sports event in the country since the Apartheid policy began 23 years prior.
Though African-American golfers were now officially allowed to play on the PGA Tour, it was still a racially- prejudiced sport and many blacks golfers were still banned from clubhouses throughout America and many times would require such players to get changed and eat in the parking lots outside.
Then in 1975, Elder was invited to play in the most illustrious golf tournament on the planet when he qualified for The Masters in Augusta and became the first black play to do so, a milestone in African-American history that would be covered by almost every newspaper & news programme in the States.
Elder didn’t make the cut in his maiden Masters but the impact of his presence on the green was certainly clear and it proved that regardless of skin colour anybody could compete at golf’s highest level.
He would go on to play in five more Masters Tournaments, win three PGA tournaments and was picked for the 1979 US Ryder Cup team.
Elder was crucial in opening the door for many other young black golfers including Tiger Woods and his contribution to the sport and to humanity as a whole should never be forgotten.