Lee Elder, the first Black man to play in the Masters and an honorary starter at the 2021 Masters alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, died this week at the age of 87.
Elder was a four-time PGA Tour winner and teed it up for the first two rounds at Augusta National in 1975 in his historic debut. He went on to play in five more Masters and 34 major championships overall, where he put together seven top-25 finishes. His career was an inspiration. Despite enduring family trauma as a child -- his parents died before he turned 10 -- and abuse as a budding pro, he qualified for the PGA Tour via Q-School for the 1968 season.
In his very first year on the PGA Tour, he lost in a playoff at the American Golf Classic to none other than Jack Nicklaus, who he would then sit next to 53 years later on the first tee at Augusta.
Elder's portfolio of victories on the Tour includes the 1974 Monsanto Open, the 1976 Houston Open, the 1978 Greater Milwaukee Open and the 1978 American Express Westchester Classic. His best finish at a major was T11, which he put together at the 1974 PGA Championship and then again five years later at the 1979 U.S. Open.
It's the Masters, though, for which Elder will be known. Just 22 years after his debut, Tiger Woods became the first Black man to wear a green jacket, but it was Elder who laid the foundation for what would later come. Here's what Woods said about Elder just after his historic 1997 win at Augusta National.
"I wasn't the pioneer. Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder and Teddy Rhodes paved the way," said Woods. "I was thinking about them and what they've done for me as I was coming up the 18th fairway. I said a little prayer and a thanks to those guys. They are the ones who did it for me."
Tiger also talked last year about Augusta National's decision to honor Elder by making him an honorary starter and by establishing two scholarships in his name at Paine College, a local HBCU.
"We all belong," Woods said at the time. "Such wonderful news to hear from Augusta National in celebration of Lee Elder."
Elder's qualification for the Masters via that 1974 Monsanto Open win was not popular in the mid-1970s. The BBC highlights that reality in this tidbit from a few years ago.
In the run up to the Masters, he received so many intimidating letters -- including death threats warning him he would never tee off -- that he ended up renting two houses in Georgia. He spent the tournament living in fear, moving between the two properties so no-one would know where he was staying.
Still, Elder endured. And he he was honored alongside Nicklaus and Player in April as the first man to be added to that honorary starter group since Arnold Palmer passed away just before the 2016 Ryder Cup.
Though his poor health prevented him from swinging a club, what Elder said afterward will always stick with me. In a moment at a press conference with Nickalus and Player, Elder could have turned the spotlight on himself and talked about all that he accomplished over his years on the PGA Tour and in the sport. Instead, he chose humility.
"My heart is very soft this morning, not heavy soft, soft because of the wonderful things that I have encountered since arriving here on Monday and being able to see some of the great friends that I have made over the past years, especially like these two gentlemen that are here," said Elder.
"We have competed against each other, and we have certainly enjoyed a lot of pleasant moments. I just want to say thank you so very much to have me here. It's a great honor, and I cherish it very much, and I will always cherish it, and I want to thank the chairman for extending me this great privilege."