Dallas native and golfer Robert Lee Elder passed away on Sunday, November 28, at the age of 87. Elder was the first black golfer to play in the Masters and ultimately paved the way for Tiger Woods and others. No cause of death is currently known; however, the PGA Tour confirmed Elder’s death with the family.
“I think a lot of guys, would have given up,” said Elder during his rookie season at age 34. “I don’t think they would have stuck it out for this long.”
He showed throughout his life that he could withstand the trials and persevere.
Lee Elder was born on July 14, 1934, in Dallas, Texas, and was the youngest of ten children. After his father was killed in World War II when he was 9, his mother died three months later and Elder was taken in by his aunt.
He first got into golf as a caddie, playing his first 18-hole round when he was 16. Elder would use scavenged golf balls and wooden-shafted clubs as he got by hustling gold games around Dallas.
He would often win money by playing on one leg, on his knees, or using a cross-handed grip. He would eventually travel the road with ‘hustler extraordinaire’ Titanic Thompson, posing as Thompson’s caddie before using his unexpected skills to make the competition reach for their wallets.
Lee Elder lacked full belief in himself despite being tutored by the great African American golfer Ted Rhodes and dominating the UGA.
This was until he finally qualified for the U.S. Open in 1966. Elder would work tirelessly for the next few years until he finally made history in 1975 at the Augusta National. It was there that Elder was invited to an all-white tournament, having won the Monsanto Open the year before.
Unfortunately, Elder would miss his first cut at the Masters but stamped himself as a trailblazing figure in a sport that wasn’t known for racial tolerance.
It wasn’t until 22 years later that Tiger Woods became the first black golfer to win the Masters and embrace the green jacket, with Elder in attendance.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Lee Elder,” said Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters. “Lee was an inspiration to so many young men and women of color, not only through his play but also through his commitment to education and community. Lee will always be a part of the history of the Masters Tournament. His presence will be sorely missed, but his legacy will continue to be celebrated.”