I knew what I was getting into when I chose golf. Hell, I knew I'd never get rich and famous. All the discrimination, the not being able to play where I deserved and wanted to play — in the end I didn't give a damn. I was made for a tough life, because I'm a tough man. And in the end I won; I got a lot of black people playing golf. That's good enough. If I had to do it over again, exactly the same way, I would.
− Charlie Sifford, Golf Digest, December 2006
A black caddie from a poor family in Charlotte, North Carolina, Charlie Sifford dared to play professional golf with white men. It was not a friendly game for Charlie. He endured open heckling, insults and who knows what else.
But someone had to go first, so the resolute Sifford embarked on the PGA Tour in the 1960s and scratched out a living, including wins at the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 Los Angeles Open. In 2004 Charlie Sifford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
I saw Charlie three times last year, in Savannah, Hickory (North Carolina) and Baltimore. Twice I shook his hand and once I spoke with him.
Charlie was stroking putts on the practice putting green at the Senior Players Championship in Baltimore last September. It’s a rare opportunity to talk to the Jackie Robinson of a sport, and I took it.
“How are you doing Charlie?” I asked.
Charlie had a heart problem that prevented him from playing golf, but he wasn’t about to miss a Grand Champions event, an ambassador of sorts riding around in a cart and swapping stories in the dining room. I can’t remember our conversation exactly, except that he was getting along OK and hoped his doctor would clear him soon to play golf again.
I do remember it was just the two of us on that putting green on a bright September morning. I felt lucky to be in the presence of a true pioneer.
As part of Black History Month, the Golf Channel has a video tribute to Charlie Sifford here.
The Armchair Golfer