'Lost a hero': World mourns death of golf pioneer Lee Elder

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Lee Elder is pictured here with Tiger Woods earlier in their lives.
Tiger Woods (right) credited Lee Elder as being one of the trailblazers for his own incredible career. Pic: Getty

Tributes are pouring in across the sporting world after the sad news that legendary golfing pioneer Lee Elder has passed away at the age of 87.

Elder is being remembered as a "trailblazer" and a "hero" after becoming the first Black man to compete at the Masters in 1975.

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A cause of death, which occurred early Sunday in Escondido, California, was not given. He had been in poor health for some time.

Elder was a champion of racial justice who Tiger Woods credited with blazing a path that he himself followed.

During his career, Elder won four events on the PGA Tour, including the 1974 Monsanto Open which qualified him for the following year's Masters, and later recorded eight wins on the Seniors Tour.

"Lee was a good player, but most important, a good man who was very well respected by countless people," Jack Nicklaus wrote on his Twitter account.

"The game of golf lost a hero in Lee Elder."

Nicklaus' words were echoed far and wide as the sporting world paid tribute to a legend of golf.

Born in Dallas, one of ten children, Elder was an orphan by the time he was ten. His father was killed in action during World War II and his mother died three months later. Moving to live with an aunt in California he skipped classes to work as a caddy but was 16 before he played an 18-hole round.

After military service he turned pro in 1961, the year the PGA tour lifted its ban on non-whites joining, but it was not until 1967 he raised the funds to attend qualifying school, finishing 9th and earning his card for 1968.

Lee Elder overcame prejudices to become a golfing pioneer

In his early years on the Tour he faced prejudice, at times being made to change clothes in the car park, and death threats, the latter especially when he first qualified for The Masters, the host club of which, Augusta National, did not admit a Black member until 1990.

In 2020, 45 years later, Augusta National announced it would celebrate Elder by adding him as an honorary starter with Nicklaus and Gary Player at this year's Masters.

Seen here, Lee Elder at the Masters in 2021 as an honorary starter.
Lee Elder was an honorary Masters starter after becoming the first Black man to compete in the Augusta National major in 1975. Pic: Getty

Elder, who had limited mobility, was driven to the first hole at Augusta National in a golf cart this past April where he was warmly welcomed but did not hit a tee shot.

"For me and my family, I think it was one of the most emotional experiences that I have ever witnessed or been involved in," Elder said after the ceremony.

"It is certainly something that I will cherish for the rest of my life."

Elder went on to play in five more Masters and 34 major championships, recording seven top-25 finishes. He tied for 11th at both the 1974 PGA Championship and the 1979 U.S. Open. His best Masters finish was in 1979 when he finished in a share of 17th place.

When Tiger Woods became the first Black player to win the Masters in 1997, with Elder in attendance, he acknowledged the groundwork laid by Elder, Charlie Sifford - the first Black golfer to compete on the PGA Tour, and Ted Rhodes, who competed in the US Open in 1948.

"I wasn't the pioneer. Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder and Teddy Rhodes paved the way," Woods said at the time.

"I was thinking about them and what they've done for me as I was coming up the 18th fairway. I said a little prayer and a thanks to those guys. They are the ones who did it for me."

with AAP

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