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Charles Sifford, First African American to Earn PGA Card

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Another first for an African American in sports! Charles Sifford was considered the 'Jackie Robinson of golf.

Charlie Sifford and Tiger Woods

Charlie Sifford and Tiger Woods

Charlie Sifford Firsts

Charlie Sifford Firsts

Charles Sifford, First African American PGA Player

Born Charles Luther Sifford in 1922, in Charleston, South Carolina, Sifford had to endure racism and bigotry throughout his life and career. He started as a caddie earning sixty cents a day, giving his mother fifty cents, and keeping only ten cents for himself to buy golf balls.

The country club was closed on Mondays when caddies were allowed to play, but he found the racism hard to bear and so he moved to Philadelphia and began using the public golf courses to perfect his game.

In the early 1940s, Stifford played on the United Golf Association tour, 1948 through 1960. He won the Negro National Open six times.

Unable to get a PGA golf card as they did NOT lift the "CAUSIANS ONLY' until 1961, he became a golf teacher and a valet to Billy Eckstein, a popular jazz singer and able to meet great musicians as Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Sarah Vaughn. He got the nickname "Little Horse" from Eckstein and always a gold horse charm around his neck.

In 1952 Sifford tried to qualify for the PGA at the Phoenix Open and was subjected to threats and racial slur. And many from sponsors of the event. Then he played at the Long Beach Open, which was not an official PGA event.

Finally, Sifford did receive his PGA card in 1961 and played in the 1967 Greater Hartford Open winning as the FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN PGA player.

Although he was called the "Jackie Robinson" of golf, Sifford had to run the gauntlet alone, unlike Robinson, who did have a team to support him. Sifford suffered such hardships as a Black player. He was not allowed to eat in the country clubs but had to leave the premises for a meal. All the while on the course, he received slurs from the galleries, had his balls kicked to the rough.

Sifford's biggest regret was that he was NEVER invited to play in the Masters. There was discussion about that, and some thought it was Clifford Roberts of the Master's Tournament who wanted to keep an 'elite' group of players and didn't want Black players included. Others believe the Masters was eliminating the automatic invitations as a way of keeping minorities out. Whatever the reason, Sifford would never forget the slight and did carry a grudge over it.

Charles Sifford Quote

Charles Sifford Quote

Sifford On The Course

Sifford On The Course

Sifford and Woods

Sifford and Woods

Sifford's Swing

Sifford's Swing

Charles Sifford 1961 winning PGA Card

Charles Sifford 1961 winning PGA Card

Charles Sifford After Retiring

Sifford was now playing on the Seniors Tour. In 1975 he won the PGA Senior Championship. In 1980 he won the Suntree Classic. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004, the first African American to receive this honor.

  • 2006 Sifford received an honorary degree from the University of St. Andrews as a Doctorate of Law.
  • 2007 He received the Old Thomas Morris Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, GCSAA's highest honor.
  • 2009 The Northern Trust Open created an exemption for a player who represented the advancement of diversity in golf. This was named in his honor as the Charles Sifford Exemption.
  • President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The book by Charles Sifford

Sifford wrote his autobiography in the book, Just Let Me Play, Although one can sense a bit of bitterness in his book about the lack of an invitation from Clifford Roberts and the Master's Invitation he does a great job of explaining the adversity of African American players in the face of bigotry.

Sifford's wife, Rose died in 1998. Together they had two children, Craig Stifford and Charles Stifford, Jr. Charles died February 3, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio suffering from a stroke. He is buried in Moore's Sanctuary, AME Zion Cemetery, Charlotte, North Carolins.

The family generously donated his memorabilia to the University of Maryland.

A Wonderful Game

A Wonderful Game

Comments

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on February 26, 2021:

Liz, thank you for your visit. unfortunately, discrimination still exists but perhaps things are changing.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on February 26, 2021:

Thanks, Pamela for your visit. He was highly respected by the golf community and especially Tiger Woods.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 26, 2021:

This is an excellent biographical account. It is shocking to read of the discrimination he suffered.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 26, 2021:

Charles Sifford beautifully paved the way for other golfers, and he may have paved the way for other black Americans in other sports. He sounds like a good man, and this is a very interesting article, Fran.

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