AUGUSTA, Ga – As the sun glanced over the tall Georgia pines on Thursday morning, Lee Elder joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as honorary starters on the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club for the 85th edition of the Masters

86-year-old elder led to No 1 tee in basket Using a cane to walk and an oxygen tank to help him breathe, Elder didn’t hit a ceremonial tee shot like the former champions

“I want to thank you very much for this great opportunity,” Elder said at a press conference shortly after. “For me and my family, I think it was one of the most moving that I have never attended or in which I have been involved This is definitely something that I will cherish for the rest of my life because I loved coming to Augusta National and playing here the times that I have played here with a lot of my friends who are members here.”

At the Masters delayed by the pandemic in November, Augusta National Golf Club president Fred Ridley announced that Elder, the first black man to play in the Masters (in 1975), would be invited to join Nicklaus and Player as honorary starter The club also endowed two scholarships to Paine College, a nearby HBCU, on behalf of Elder

“Lee Elder is the first black man to compete in the Masters and in doing so has laid a trail that will inspire golf and future generations of players,” Ridley said Thursday morning, while introducing Elder to a gallery of a few hundred clients

Former Masters champions Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson and Cameron Champ, a black golfer competing in his second Masters this week, stood nearby. The same was true of several professionals from the black club who had been invited to the ceremony

“They were definitely inspired by Lee Elder and his message that golf is for everyone,” said Ridley “Today Lee Elder will inspire us and make history once again, not with motivation, but with presence, strength and character

Elder, who grew up in Dallas, didn’t play an 18-hole round until he was 16 He worked in pro shops and locker rooms and caddied on golf courses that were split up in the 1950s After serving in the military, he joined the United Golf Association, a tour for black players, winning 18 of 22 events during a stretch

In 1968, after saving the $ 6,500 needed to join the PGA Tour, Elder earned his tour card by finishing ninth at the Q school.During his rookie season, he lost to Nicklaus in the playoffs at the American Golf Classic, falling on the fifth Sudden Death Hole at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio

“I think that really motivated my career,” Elder said. “I know after that I started to flourish pretty well, and I think what happened is that it really changed my game because I knew that if I could play five more holes with the great Jack Nicklaus I knew I had arrived and that I could play on the tour “

Elder also has a close connection to Player, a three-time South African Masters champion In 1971, Player invited Elder to play in the South African PGA Championship in Johannesburg An elder agreed to leave, but only if the South African government promised that it would not be subject to apartheid

“It’s pretty sad to think that at that time, with South Africa’s segregation policy, I had to go see my president and get permission for Lee Elder to come and play in our PGA,” said Player

“You can imagine at that time in history how encouraging it was for a young black boy to see this champion play, and then of course with the arrival of Tiger Woods, it was absolutely fantastic for them. people of all colors around the world, “said the player

Elder qualified for the Masters by winning the 1974 Pensacola Open for his first victory on the PGA Tour Due to death threats the trophy ceremony was held inside the club- house, instead of the 18th green His invitation to the Masters came 41 years after the first tournament played in 1934, the same year he was born

“I was a little surprised when it was announced that a black player hadn’t played because Lee had certainly played well enough, and he had Teddy Rhodes before him and he had Charlie Sifford before him and guys who could have played well, was invited to the Masters “, said Nicklaus” I thought it was too late when he was finally invited “

When Elder arrived in Augusta for the 1975 Masters, he rented two houses for safety reasons He and his friends were denied a meal at a restaurant because of their race, then the president of Paine College arranged for school cafeteria workers to cook for him the rest of the week

“The strongest memory I can remember was how nervous I was going to the first tee,” Elder said. “But what I remember so much from my first visit here is the fact that every tee and every green I walked I got huge standing ovations. I think when you get something like that it helps calm you down I’ll tell you, I was so nervous when we started playing it took me a few holes to calm down “

A senior missed the cup by 4 strokes Nicklaus won his fifth green jacket by beating Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf by 1

Elder played six times at the Masters from 1975 to 1981, making three cuts His best result was a tie for 17th in 1979

“I really hope the things I have done have inspired a lot of young black players and that they will continue with it,” Elder said.

He was back on the No 1 tee at Augusta National on Thursday, inspiring them again

Lee Elder

World news – United States – Lee Elder joins Nicklaus, player to open Masters