Charlie Sifford, pro golf’s first African-American player and the first black man inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, died Tuesday at the age of 92.
Sifford, who recently suffered a stroke, died at Southpoint Hospital in Ohio, according to PGA spokesman Wendell J. Haskins. Cause of death was not immediately released.
The man who broke pro golf’s race barrier began playing in the late 1940s and was barred from the PGA of America until the whites-only membership was dropped in 1961.
He won the Greater Hartford Open in 1967 and the Los Angeles Open in 1969. He also won the 1975 Senior PGA Championship, five years before the Champions Tour was created.
His career was fully recognized in 2004 when he became the first African-American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. This past November, President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer are the only other golfers who received that honor.
“Charlie won tournaments, but more important, he broke a barrier,” Nicklaus once said. “I think what Charlie Sifford has brought to his game has been monumental.”
This past November, President Barack Obama presented Sifford with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, noting that the award was a thanks to the “trailblazers who built the arc of freedom towards justice.” On Wednesday, the White House released a statement regarding Sifford’s passing:
“Charlie was the first African-American to earn a PGA Tour card — often facing indignity and injustice even as he faced the competition. Though his best golf was already behind him, he proved that he belonged, winning twice on tour and blazing a trail for future generations of athletes in America. I was honored to award Charlie the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year — for altering the course of the sport and the country he loved. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his friends, and his fans.”
In Sifford’s autobiography Just Let Me Play, he writes about meeting Jackie Robinson, another sport players who broke through racial barriers, and about the challenges they faced in pre-segregated America.
“He asked me if I was a quitter,” Sifford wrote. “I told him no. He said, ‘If you’re not a quitter, you’re probably going to experience some things that will make you want to quit.'”
Sifford, the North Carolina native who previously worked as a caddie making 60 cents a day, didn’t make it to the pros until he was nearly 40-years-old, but as the New York Times points out, he “showed what he might have accomplished in his prime and paved the way for Lee Elder, Calvin Peete, Jim Thorpe, Jim Dent and Tiger Woods.”
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Sifford’s family. May he rest in peace.
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