Wednesday, February 27

Charlie Sifford, Golf Pioneer

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.

(Photo: elriogolfcourse.com)

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

2 comments :

Brett said...

More exposure for Charlie Sifford... great, he deserves more...

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