Lee Elder & Charlie Sifford:The Pioneers

Lee Elder, 75, and Charlie Sifford, 87, in Savannah, Ga.
Ben Van Hook

Golf Magazine: Charles, you joined the Tour in 1961 after the Caucasians-only clause was lifted. What were those early years like?

Sifford: Jackie Robinson said to me, "Are you a quitter?" I said hell no. He said, "You better be tough, because you'll wanna quit." I got death threats. Heard every name in the book. They kicked my ball into traps. In Phoenix, someone put stuff [human feces] in a cup on the first hole. I just wanted to show that a black man could play this game and be a gentleman. I did that.

GM: Did Jackie inspire you?

Sifford: Nobody inspired me! I was already inspired. That clause was wrong, and I decided to change it. Damn right I'm a pioneer.

Elder: Dr. King inspired me. I met him at his church in Atlanta. He was dynamic! He leaned in and said, "Always try to avoid a problem. It's easier to avoid than to have a confrontation." I remembered his words in Memphis, 1970, two years after he was assassinated there. I was leading on Saturday on the 15th hole. Someone ran out in the fairway and threw my tee ball out onto the road. My [playing] partner claimed he didn't see anything. Everyone saw it. But OK, I'm used to that. I got a free drop, and the gallery got angry. They followed us, shouting "Cheater!" and "You want the n----- to win!" Sunday, I shot 2-under surrounded by armed guards.

GM: Charles, you received a death threat in your hotel at the Greater Greensboro Open, where you became the first African-American on Tour. You told the guy, "I'll see you on the first tee, 9:20 a.m."

Sifford: I couldn't worry about no threats. I just wanted to play and win.

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