In 1975, Lee Elder became the first African American to play in the Masters Tournament. And that was just the beginning for this brave pioneer.
Born in Dallas, Texas, in 1934, the youngest of ten and orphaned by age nine, Elder was raised by his aunt till the age of sixteen. On his own, after that, he started caddying and playing golf for money on the side. Despite the Caucasian-only clause that barred Blacks from competing on the American professional circuit, Elder traveled the country, hustling and refining his game.
Two years before the racial prohibition was removed from PGA bylaws, Lee Elder turned pro. It was 1959, and he set out on the United Golfers Association tournament trail for African American players. By 1968, in an interview, he commented, “I think a lot of guys would have given up by now.” But Elder kept going.
When he broke the race barrier and won his first Masters, making golf history in 1975, famed sportswriter Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times wrote: “What Lee Elder was born with was a lot of patience, determination, guts, and willpower. You can’t play golf without all four of these.”
After numerous PGA Tour championships, among many other wins and achievements, Elder received the Bob Jones Award in 2019 for distinguished sportsmanship, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association.
Elder not only broke impossible race barriers in the sport of golf, but he also paved the way for all African Americans.
Lee Elder had an Uncommon Life because he had mastered his emotional mountain despite an entire country telling him he wasn’t allowed to even participate due to the color of his skin.