Breaking Barriers: The Life of Lee Elder
At a dinner at Pebble Beach in 2019 to honor Lee Elder with the Bob Jones Award for sportsmanship, bestowed by the United States Golf Association, the commentator Jim Nantz told the golfer in a speech: “Your life will have meaning for years and centuries to come.”
Elder, whose death at 87 was announced on Monday by the PGA Tour, in 1975 became the first Black golfer to play in the Masters Tournament. He was honored at the tournament this year for his 1975 appearance at Augusta National Golf Club, which was, as Richard Goldstein of The New York Times writes in Elder’s obituary, “a signature moment in the breaking of racial barriers on the pro golf tour.”
Before the start of that tournament, Elder wrote in an article for The Times: “The one thing on my mind this past year is the fact of being at Augusta, something I’ve wanted quite some time. I think I made it clear, when I first came on the tour, that I would be happy to qualify for the Masters. But I wanted to qualify on my own merit, I didn’t want anyone giving me a special invitation.”
As The Times golf reporter Bill Pennington wrote from Augusta, Ga., in April: Elder’s role in the ceremonial opening tee shot, viewed as long overdue, had been much anticipated. After being announced the year before, it was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The significance of Elder’s appearance was not lost at a time when the country was undergoing another racial justice reckoning. Nor was the substance of his career, which will indeed have meaning for years and centuries to come.
Lee Elder played exhibition matches in Kenya and other African countires in 1971.