The Golf World Remembers Lee Elder, PGA Tour Pioneer And 4-Time Winner

Someone has to go first. For Tiger Woods to shatter barriers with his iconic victory at the 1997 Masters, propelling himself to superstardom on such a meaningful stage, Lee Elder had to crack open the door, becoming the first Black golfer to play in the event 22 years earlier. 

Elder, who died Monday at age 87, shouldered the heavy burden that comes with pioneering such a cause — “I was shaking so badly, I did not know if I was even going to be able to tee up the ball,” he once said of his appearance at the 1975 Masters — so people of color could finally feel welcome in a sport that had historically shut them out.

“Lee Elder was a pioneer, and in so many ways,” Jack Nicklaus told PGATour.com. “Yes, he was the first Black player to compete in the Masters Tournament, but that simply underlined the hard work Lee put in to further the cause of everyone who has a dream to play on the PGA Tour and perhaps thinks there are too many barriers before them. It was wonderful that the Masters Tournament and Augusta National paid a well-deserved tribute to Lee by inviting him to be an Honorary Starter for this last Masters. That morning, you could see the joy in Lee’s face, and Gary Player and I were honored to enjoy that moment with him. That memory will remain special for so many, including me, for many years to come.

“Lee was a good player, but most important, a good man who was very well respected by countless people. The game of golf lost a hero in Lee Elder. Barbara and I send our heartfelt condolences to Lee’s wife Sharon and their entire family.”

To Nicklaus’ point, simply appearing in these events wasn’t enough for Elder, who counted four PGA Tour trophies among his 16 professional wins and helped the Americans capture the 1979 Ryder Cup in his lone national team apearance, all the while enduring death threats and disapproving crowds.

Tributes and remembrances poured in from every corner of the golf world as news of Elder’s death circulated Monday. Below is a collection of those messages: