At the Masters, Lee Elder Gets Another Moment in the Spotlight

AUGUSTA, Ga. — With the solar rising over his shoulders, Lee Elder was launched to a crowd of a number of hundred on the first tee of the Masters Tournament on Thursday morning. Forty-six years earlier, on roughly the identical spot at Augusta National, Elder had teed off as the first Black man to play in the event.

“I was just so nervous,” Elder mentioned, recalling the opening moments of his historic 1975 look.

But on Thursday morning, Elder was comfy and smiling, becoming a member of the golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as the first Black participant included in a decades-long Masters custom: a celebration of honorary starters who strike the first ceremonial pictures of one other Masters.

Elder, 86, was seated in a white patio chair on the first tee subsequent to about 20 relations, mates and Black P.G.A. golf professionals dressed in formal apparel and aligned in a regal row. Recent points together with his mobility would forestall Elder from placing a shot on Thursday however he was greeted first by the chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, Fred S. Ridley.

“Today Lee Elder will inspire us and make history once again — not with a drive, but with his presence, strength and character,” Ridley mentioned.

Using the golf vernacular reserved for a participant who, by a number one efficiency, has earned the proper to tee off first, Ridley added, “Lee, it is my privilege to say you have the honors.”

Elder pushed at the armrests of his chair to rise however wavered as he tried to face till Player stepped ahead and positioned a hand beneath Elder’s left arm to elevate him into an upright posture. Turning to the surrounding congregation, Elder nodded his head with a wave of his left hand, then raised the driver in his proper hand as if to reply the ovation that endured for 40 seconds. Elder, with a smile, then returned to his seat.

It has been a typically taut environment at the 85th Masters this week as gamers and event officers have been requested about the new, restrictive Georgia elections regulation roiling the state. While Elder was invited to take part in the 1975 event — a few years after he and different Black gamers had been certified to play — Augusta National did not admit its first Black member till 1990, and its first girl till 2012.

Elder’s position in the first tee ceremony, seen as lengthy overdue, has been a lot anticipated because it was introduced final 12 months after which delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The symbolism of his look was not misplaced at a time when the nation is present process a racial justice reckoning. But for a protracted second on Thursday, the focus appeared to be on enveloping Elder in a tribute.

At a news convention shortly after the first tee ceremony, Player recalled that in 1969 he invited Elder to play in his home country of South Africa.

“It’s quite sad to think that in those days, with the segregation policy that South Africa had, that I had to go to my president and get permission for Lee Elder to come and play in our PGA,” Player mentioned, including, “I was called a traitor.”

Player recalled that Elder was greeted by loud standing ovations.

“We then went on to other venues,” Player mentioned. “You can imagine at that time in history how encouraging it was for a young Black boy to see this champion playing.”

Elder recalled that he gained 21 of 23 occasions in 1966 on the United Golf Association tour, which was a sequence of tournaments for African-American golfers at a time once they had been often excluded from different high skilled golf occasions. The subsequent 12 months, he bid to hitch the PGA Tour — he wanted to supply a duplicate of a financial institution assertion steadiness of $6,500 — and by 1969 discovered himself in a playoff to win the prestigious Firestone Open in Nicklaus’s native state of Ohio.

As Elder informed the story on Thursday, Nicklaus, who was seated subsequent to him on the news convention dais, interjected, “I robbed you, didn’t I?”

Elder turned to Nicklaus, “You did.”

Nicklaus defined that he made three putts of greater than 35 toes to maintain the playoff alive. Finally, Nicklaus prevailed to win the event.

“He got lucky,” mentioned Elder, who unsuccessfully suppressed a snicker, even a giggle.

He was having a great day.

“It was one of the most emotional experiences that I have ever witnessed or been involved in,” he mentioned of the first tee ceremony on Thursday.

Pausing to regulate his eyeglasses, Elder added: “My heart is very soft this morning, not heavy soft, but soft because of the wonderful things that I have encountered. It’s a great honor and I cherish it very much.”

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