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.
Today we are saddened by the loss of our teammate and friend, Mr. Lee Elder.
A true trailblazer and gentleman, we honor Lee's memory and the lasting impact he made on the game. pic.twitter.com/ylHnI6W7jo
— Ryder Cup USA (@RyderCupUSA) November 29, 2021
Lee Elder has passed away at the age of 87.
In 1975, he made history as the first African American to compete in the Masters Tournament.
Lee was honored this past April at Augusta National and his legacy will surely live on. pic.twitter.com/1o05rephKt
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) November 29, 2021
We lost a legend. My friend Lee Elder was an incredible man. He is gonna be so missed. All my love to his Wife and family. God Bless u Lee pic.twitter.com/tssjZU84js
— Darius Rucker (@dariusrucker) November 29, 2021
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) November 29, 2021
It took years before CBS would even refer to Lee Elder as black.
It took 25 years from the time Lee Elder played in the Masters to when Augusta admitted a black member.
It took 46 years for Augusta to recognize Lee Elder at the first tee.
Trail blazer.#RIPLeeElder pic.twitter.com/7qNMGWzLlo
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) November 29, 2021
#Golf lost a pioneer and an icon with the passing of Lee Elder. I was truly honored to have spent time with him on a few occasion, including playing a round with him in Los Angeles a few years ago. pic.twitter.com/Ozn5Yg5Ewh
— Michael Eaves (@michaeleaves) November 29, 2021
RIP Lee Elder, a true pioneer… https://t.co/OTOKNOrqHI
— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) November 29, 2021
RIP Lee Elder.
Here's the story of Mr Elder and the 1975 Masters. pic.twitter.com/iHceFCycbX
— GOLFTV (@GOLFTV) November 29, 2021
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.
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."
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