Charlie Sifford: Golfer who challenged the sporting establishment and became the first black man to join the US PGA tour

Sifford achieved more than he imagined, despite enduring racial taunts and threats

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The Independent Online

Charlie Sifford broke the colour barrier in golf as the first US PGA Tour member. A proud man who endured racial taunts and threats, Sifford set modest goals and achieved more than he imagined. He challenged the Caucasian-only clause and the PGA rescinded it in 1961. He won the Greater Hartford Open in 1967 and the Los Angeles Open in 1969.

In 2004 he became the first black player to inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Last November, Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom; Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer are the only other golfers to receive that honour.

The one goal that eluded him was the Masters, which did not invite its first black player until Lee Elder in 1975. Sifford remained bitter, though the pain was eased when Tiger Woods won the first of his four green jackets in 1997. Woods has said he would not have played golf if not for Sifford and other black pioneers.

In his autobiography Just Let Me Play Sifford told of meeting Jackie Robinson around the time Robinson was trying to break the colour barrier in baseball: "He asked me if I was a quitter. I told him no. He said, 'If you're not a quitter, you're probably going to experience some things that will make you want to quit.'"

During the 1952 Phoenix Open, one of the few events that blacks could enter, Sifford found human faeces in the cup when he got to the first green. He received death threats over the phone at the 1961 Greater Greensboro Open and heard racial slurs as he walked the fairways. He finished fourth, and didn't quit.

He later received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of St Andrews.


Charles Sifford, golfer: born Charlotte, North Carolina 22 June 1922; died 3 February 2015.