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Lee Elder, the First Black Golfer to Play at the Masters, Dies at 87: 'A Pioneer'

·3 min read
Lee Elder
Lee Elder

Getty Lee Elder

Lee Elder, who became the first Black golfer to participate in the Masters Tournament, has died, the PGA Tour announced on Monday morning. He was 87.

Elder's death on Sunday comes months after he made an appearance at Augusta National with fellow golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player for a ceremonial first tee to begin the 2021 Masters in April.

Elder — born in Dallas, Texas, on July 14, 1934 — has a special place in Masters history, having become the first Black golfer to play in the competition in April 1975.

According to the New York Times, Elder was 40 years old when he teed off at the 1975 Masters. He had previously spent most of his career with the United Golfers Association, which supported Black golfers during an era when only white players were allowed to play in the PGA Tour.

While the Masters did not have any official rules barring Black golfers, the 1960s civil rights movement put pressure on the tournament to officially integrate players of color, the Times reported.

"I was shaking so badly, I did not know if I was even going to be able to tee up the ball," Elder told CNN of what it was like to break the Masters' color barrier.

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Lee Elder
Lee Elder

Monica Morgan/WireImage Lee Elder

"How I got through it I do not know, just with the help of the Almighty I got there and was able to put my ball on the tee," Elder added.

Before appearing in the Masters, Elder faced intimidation from those who did not want him to play in the tournament.

"It was frightening. You try to eliminate the possibility of anything happening," he told CNN.

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The threats caused Elder to rent two houses leading up to the Georgia event so people did not know where he was staying.

"I did consider not going," Elder said of the intimidation. "It was on my mind and I think the reason why I had thought about it was because it had been so difficult qualifying for the Masters.

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Many fans paid tribute to Elder on social media on Monday. Model Beverly Johnson posted a picture of Elder, along with other Black golfers, with the message, "These are the black golfers who paved the way for the Tiger Woods of the Golfing World."

Jack Nicklaus also remembered Elder with a message on Twitter.

"Lee Elder was a pioneer in so many ways. Yes, he was the first black golfer to play in @TheMasters, but 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," Nicklaus, 81, wrote.

"It was wonderful that @TheMasters and Augusta National paid a well-deserved tribute to Lee by inviting him to be an Honorary Starter on this last Masters," he added. "That morning, you could see the joy in Lee's face, and @GaryPlayer and I were honored to enjoy that moment with him."

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