In SummaryLee Elder has died at the age of 87, being remembered as an inspiration to many young men and women of color for becoming the first Black golfer to play in the Masters competition, among other contributions.
Lee Elder died on Sunday, November 28, leaving many fond memories of the man who broke one of golf’s final and greatest racial barriers by being the first African American to compete in the Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia, in 1975.
The PGA Tour announced Elder’s death in a tweet, saying the legacy of the 87-year-old “will surely live on.”
The Associated Press reported Elder was in poor health and wore an oxygen tube beneath his nose during the Masters’ opening ceremony in April, where he was invited to swing opening tee shots alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. The undisclosed ailment left him unable to swing.
Nicklaus celebrated Elder in a series of tweets, calling him a pioneer in ways that go far beyond being the first Black golfer to play in the Masters.
Nicklaus said “that simply underlined the hard work Lee put in to further the cause of everyone who has a dream to play on the @PGATOUR and thinks there were too many barriers before them.”
“Lee was a good player, but most important, a good man who was very well respected by countless people,” Nicklaus added. “The game of golf lost a hero in Lee Elder.”
At a time when fans were accustomed to watching Black men do nothing but carry the clubs of white competitors or work as club employees, BBC reported in 2015 Elder’s invitation to the Masters drew death threats.
Though he missed the cut at his first Masters, Elder, a native Texan, established himself as a trailblazer in the world of golf when he was invited to the all-white tournament after winning the Monsanto Open the year before.
Tiger Woods, who is tied for first in PGA victories and second in men’s major championships, would become the first Black golfer to win the green jacket 22 years later, a career Elder paved the way for. Elder was able to witness Woods’ historic victory in 1997.
Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters chairman Fred Ridley also paid tribute to Lee and his historic legacy, saying his presence will be dearly missed.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Lee Elder,” said Ridley, per AP. “Lee was an inspiration to so many young men and women of color not only through his play, but also through his commitment to education and community. Lee will always be a part of the history of the Masters Tournament.”