In 1961 Charlie Sifford, an African American, broke golf’s color barrier. On Tuesday evening, the 2004 World Golf Hall of Fame inductee died at the age of 92. Sifford won the Greater Hartford Open in 1967 and the Los Angeles Open in 1969 before winning the 1975 Senior PGA Championship.
Sifford had a profound impact on the sport of golf and served as an inspiration for many of today’s brightest stars including Tiger Woods, who has frequently stated that if not for Sifford and other black pioneers he would have never played golf. Sifford never played at The Masters, but took great pride in Tiger’s sustained success at Augusta National.
“It’s been tough. Very tough,” Woods said in a statement Wednesday. “As I’ve alluded to in the past, he’s like my grandpa that I never had. And it’s been a long night and it’s going to be a long few days.
“But he fought, and what he did, the courage it took for him to stick with it and be out here and play, I probably wouldn’t be here, my dad wouldn’t have picked up the game, who knows if the clause would still exist or not. But he broke it down.”
The White House released a statement from President Obama earlier this afternoon that read:
“Charlie was the first African-American to earn a PGA Tour card — often facing indignity and injustice even as he faced the competition,” the statement read. “Though his best golf was already behind him, he proved that he belonged, winning twice on tour and blazing a trail for future generations of athletes in America. I was honored to award Charlie the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year — for altering the course of the sport and the country he loved. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his friends, and his fans.”
Sifford was often referred to as ‘The Jackie Robinson of Golf.” He faced racial taunts and death threats, but continued to play the game that he loved at a high level and was admired by some of golf’s most legendary players including Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.