Charlie Sifford, the first black golfer to hold a PGA Tour card, passed away earlier this month, leaving a legacy of accomplishments toward the advancement of racial equality not only in the world of golf but the country as well. During his 92 years, he broke through the PGA’s “Caucasians only” rule, eventually winning twice on Tour, was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, penned a book about his struggles “Just Let Me Play,” and late last year received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony.
Sifford had five goals in golf — to become a PGA Tour member, win a PGA event, play in the U.S. Open, play in the Masters, and get inducted into the Hall of Fame. His only regret is never getting into the Masters. He won the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 Los Angeles Open but the Masters did not start inviting PGA Tour winners until a few years later.
During the Medal of Freedom awards, President Obama said, “On the tour, Charlie was sometimes banned from clubhouse restaurants. Folks threatened him, shouted slurs from the gallery, and kicked his ball into the rough. And because golf can be a solitary sport, Charlie didn’t have teammates to lean on. But he did have his lovely wife, Rose. And he had plenty of guts and grit and that trademark cigar. And Charlie won on the Tour twice, both after age 45. But it was never just about the wins. As Charlie says, ‘I wasn’t just trying to do this for me, I was trying to do it for the world.’ ”
One result of Charlie’s efforts came in 2009 when the Northern Trust Open created the Charlie Sifford Exemption, which is given to a player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf.
At his funeral service last week in Charlotte, N.C., many of the 200 in attendance shared smiles and chuckles, and it was said more than once during the service – “Leave it to Charlie Sifford to die during Black History Month.”
The theme for Black History Month in 2015 is “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture” chronicling the important contributions by African-Americans to art, literature, sports, and pop culture, of which Charlie Sifford is a shining example.
Rick Stedman is an avid golfer, RVer, and writer who lives in Olympia, Washington. Rick writes a golf column, “The RV Golfer,” which is published every month in rvlife.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.