Forty-six years after he broke the color barrier at Augusta National – becoming the first African-American golfer to tee it up at the Masters (1975), Lee Elder made history again, this time as the first Black honorary starter.
The 86-year old Elder, who’s in poor health, arrived at the famous first tee in a golf cart, and did not partake in the actual tee shot. But this did not matter to the fans at Augusta, or those watching at home – it was a tear-jerker, nonetheless.
The Dallas, Texas native moved from his cart to a white resin chair, which was sited across from the iconic starter signage that once displayed Arnold Palmer, but now showed Elder’s name next to the number 86 (his age). Below were the names of Gary Player (85) and Jack Nicklaus (81).
With an appreciative smile and a slight nod, the four-time PGA Tour winner acknowledged the cheering crowd surrounding the expansive tee box.
Player and Nicklaus then arrived, and after a salute to their former rival, Masters Tournament Chairman Fred Riley began the ceremonies.
“Lee Elder was the first Black man to compete in the Masters, and in doing so, blazed a trail that inspired the game of golf and future generations of players,” Ridley said.
“We are delighted today to have a number of Black golf professionals who are proud members of the PGA of America. They were undoubtedly inspired by Lee Elder and his message that the game of golf belongs to everyone.
Ridely continued, “Today, Lee Elder will inspire us and make history once more. Not with a drive but with his presence, strength and character.
“Lee, it is my privilege to say, ‘You have the honors.’”
With a helping hand from his South African friend, Elder stood, raised his PING driver in the air with one hand, and gave a thumbs up with the other, all while nodding and embracing the reception. He turned to Player and Nicklaus, who were clapping for their old friend, and whispered, “Thank you.”
Former Masters champions Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson were spotted wiping away tears, as was CBS’ Nick Faldo, and Greg Norman who is working the Masters’ radio broadcast.
After about a 45-second standing ovation, Elder sat, and gave way to Player and Nicklaus, who each hit perfect tee balls.
Afterwards, the three historic Masters’ golfers sat for an interview in the Press Building.
“Well, I certainly want to say thank you so very much for this great opportunity. For me and my family, I think it was one of the most emotional experiences that I have ever witnessed or been involved in,” said Elder, sitting to the left of Nicklaus.
“It is certainly something that I will cherish for the rest of my life because I have loved coming to Augusta National and playing here the times that I have played here with many of my friends that are members here, and at the request and invitation of Buzzy Johnson, who has also had me.
“But to me, 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.
“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.”
Once again, he added, “Thank you.”