AUGUSTA, Ga. — With the sun rising over his shoulders, Lee Elder was introduced to a crowd of several hundred on the first tee of the Masters Tournament on Thursday morning. Forty-six years earlier, on roughly the same spot at Augusta National, Elder had teed off as the first Black man to play inside the tournament.
“I was just so nervous,” Elder said, recalling the opening moments of his historic 1975 appearance.
yet on Thursday morning, Elder was at ease in addition to smiling, joining the golf legends Jack Nicklaus in addition to Gary Player as the first Black player included in a decades-long Masters tradition: a celebration of honorary starters who strike the first ceremonial shots of another Masters.
Elder, 86, was seated in a white patio chair on the first tee next to about 20 family members, friends in addition to Black P.G.A. golf professionals dressed in formal attire in addition to aligned in a regal row. Recent issues with his mobility would likely prevent Elder coming from striking a shot on Thursday yet he was greeted first by the chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, Fred S. Ridley.
“Today Lee Elder will inspire us in addition to make history Just as before — not that has a drive, yet with his presence, strength in addition to character,” Ridley said.
Using the golf vernacular reserved for a player who, by a leading performance, has earned the right to tee off first, Ridley added, “Lee, the idea is actually my privilege to say you contain the honors.”
Elder pushed at the armrests of his chair to rise yet wavered as he tried to stand until Player stepped forward in addition to placed a hand under Elder’s left arm to lift him into an upright posture. Turning to the surrounding congregation, Elder nodded his head that has a wave of his left hand, then raised the driver in his right hand as if to answer the ovation of which endured for 40 seconds. Elder, that has a grin, then returned to his seat.
the idea has been a sometimes taut atmosphere at the 85th Masters This kind of week as players in addition to tournament officials have been asked about the brand-new, restrictive Georgia elections law roiling the state. While Elder was invited to participate inside the 1975 tournament — many years after he in addition to some other Black players were qualified to play — Augusta National did not admit its first Black member until 1990, in addition to its first woman until 2012.
Elder’s role inside the first tee ceremony, viewed as long overdue, has been much anticipated since the idea was announced last year in addition to then delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The symbolism of his appearance was not lost at a time when the country is actually undergoing a racial justice reckoning. yet for a long moment on Thursday, the focus seemed to be on enveloping Elder in a tribute.
At a news conference shortly after the first tee ceremony, Player recalled of which in 1969 he invited Elder to play in his home country of South Africa.
“the idea’s quite sad to think of which in those days, with the segregation policy of which South Africa had, of which I had to go to my president in addition to get permission for Lee Elder to come in addition to play in our PGA,” Player said, adding, “I was called a traitor.”
Player recalled of which Elder was greeted by loud standing ovations.
“We then went on to some other venues,” Player said. “You can imagine at of which time in history how encouraging the idea was for a young Black boy to see This kind of champion playing.”
Elder recalled of which he won 21 of 23 events in 1966 on the United Golf Association tour, which was a series of tournaments for African-American golfers at a time when they were regularly excluded coming from some other top professional golf events. The next year, he bid to join the PGA Tour — he needed to provide a copy of a bank statement balance of $6,500 — in addition to by 1969 found himself in a playoff to win the prestigious Firestone Open in Nicklaus’s native state of Ohio.
As Elder told the story on Thursday, Nicklaus, who was seated next to him on the news conference dais, interjected, “I robbed you, didn’t I?”
Elder turned to Nicklaus, “You did.”
Nicklaus explained of which he made three putts of more than 35 feet to keep the playoff alive. Finally, Nicklaus prevailed to win the tournament.
“He got lucky,” said Elder, who unsuccessfully suppressed a snicker, even a giggle.
He was having a not bad day.
“the idea was one of the most emotional experiences of which I have ever witnessed or been involved in,” he said of the first tee ceremony on Thursday.
Pausing to adjust his eyeglasses, Elder added: “My heart is actually very soft This kind of morning, not heavy soft, yet soft because of the wonderful things of which I have encountered. the idea’s a great honor in addition to I cherish the idea very much.”