Black History Month is here and when we think of African-Americans in golf, one obvious name comes up: Tiger Woods. In reality, however, there were many great golfers before Woods’ time who helped shape the sport into a more diverse pastime.
Charlie Sifford is one of those players. Sifford broke the color barrier in golf, and is widely known as the Jackie Robinson of the sport.
Sifford would win two PGA Tour tournaments in 1967 and 1969 to go along with six National Negro Opens in the United Golf Association (Negro Leagues of Golf in a way). In a time when Sifford would receive death threats, he still managed to keep his cool and go out and win on the big stage.
Not only that, he would go on to win the Senior PGA Championship in 1975, for his only major title. His impact on golf left a legacy, and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2014.
Tiger Woods once called Sifford his “grandpa,” letting the world know about his impact on and off the golf course. During his emotional Hall of Fame speech in 2004, Sifford gave major kudos to another icon, Ted Rhodes.
Rhodes, who unfortunately never got an opportunity to play on the PGA Tour, is still considered to be one of the greatest golfers of all time. In his time playing with the United Golf Association, Rhodes would reel in an impressive 150 plus tournaments, placing him among the sport’s elite.
In Chicago, he met legendary entertainer Billy Eckstein and boxing great Joe Louis. He taught both men how to play golf, and also taught the aforementioned Sifford, who started as a caddy before picking up the clubs himself.
The list of people he mentored doesn’t end there, as he taught Lee Elder, who became the first African-American golfer to play in the Masters in 1975. Despite Rhodes not getting an opportunity to play on the PGA Tour, he did earn a spot in the U.S. Open in 1948 at legendary Riviera Country Club.
Without Rhodes, we may have never heard of Sifford, the man who shattered the barrier preventing African-Americans from playing on Tour. Without Sifford, we may also have never heard of another big name, who played his best years in the 1980s: Calvin Peete.
Peete was arguably the best African-American player in PGA Tour history not named Tiger Woods. With his 12 PGA Tour wins, including the Players Championship, one of golf’s biggest tournaments, he was one of the dominant forces in the 1980s.
In his time, he would lead the PGA Tour in driving accuracy for an unbelievable 10 straight years from 1981 to 1990. He also played very well in major championships as well, finishing in a tie for 3rd place in the 1982 PGA Championship and tied for 4th in the 1983 U.S. Open.
Not only that, he would play in two Ryder Cups, golf’s ultimate team event, in 1983 and 1985 under captains Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino. Unfortunately, Peete would fall short of the World Golf Hall of Fame because he never won a major.
Nonetheless, he is one of the winningest players of a decade when the competition was fierce. One of the more amazing things about Peete is that he had an accident as a young boy that badly broke his arm, yet he’s still one of the most accurate golfers of all time.
Although he isn’t in the World Golf Hall of Fame, Peete is in the African American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame for his stellar play on Tour. So, with all of these great African-American legends of the past, helping carve the way for players like Tiger Woods, what does the future hold?
With young, up-and-coming talents such as Harold Varner III on the PGA Tour, and Mariah Stackhouse on the LPGA Tour, the future looks bright. It’s only a matter of time when golf continues to evolve and the snooty nature evaporates into nothingness, leaving the door open for everyone to play and enjoy the game.
And it’s all thanks to the many legends of golfing past.