Calvin Peete wasn't the first African-American on the PGA Tour, but he was certainly the most successful (until the emergence of Tiger Woods), winning 12 times throughout '70s and '80s on the strength of unparalleled driving accuracy.
Golf has struggled to attract black players to the sport, and Peete says the problem is "lack of exposure."
"The thing of it is, most of the players, with the exception of myself, came up through the caddie ranks,” Peete told Chuck Curti of 7CsGolf.com. “That was their first exposure to the game: caddie on the weekend and for the summer when they were out of school. The black caddie became an endangered species, therefore it also sifted into the players because there was no exposure. The lack of exposure is really what the problem is.”
Peete (and Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder) paved the way for Woods, whose superstar status was supposed to open the sport to more African-American players. It hasn't happened. We're nearly two decades into Woods' storied career and he's still the only African-American on Tour. By contrast, Peete had Sifford and Elder and other black golfers on Tour when he started.
“When I came on tour in 1975, there were 10 or 12 blacks [who had been] on the tour already,” said Peete from his home in Jacksonville, Fla. “I wasn’t just the token black out there. I was just one of the brothers.
“I would have to say Charlie paved the way for all of us. He was the one who took the racial slurs and all the racism when he came on tour in 1961.”
While acknowledging the efforts of The First Tee to introduce golf to underprivileged kids, Peete says support from the black corporate community is needed to provide a potential pathway for Tour hopefuls.
“That takes time," he said. "This is not an overnight thing. But we have to use our resources to do this. We can’t wait on the system to do this. We’ve got to do more.”
Photo: Calvin Peete at the 1985 Ryder Cup (Getty Images).