The Masters is golf’s premier event and until Lee Elder broke through in 1975, the tournament didn’t allow Black players to participate.
Played in Augusta GA, the winds of progression blew fiercely when Elder made the cut to become the first African-American to play in the world’s most prestigious pro golf tourney.
Last year, Augusta decided to honor this trailblazer and pioneer and despite battling illness, at 86 years old, he was able to smell his rose as he and Jack Nicklaus were the honorary starters for the 2021 Masters.
The ovation began as Lee Elder approached the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club in a golf cart and reached a crescendo as he stood with the help of a cane and waved his right hand.
“Today Lee Elder will inspire us and make history once more,” Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said. “Lee, you have the honors.”
Elder, 86, who uses oxygen to assist his breathing, had a full set of golf clubs at his disposal and used a driver for balance, but he was unfit to hit a shot. When he took a seat to another round of applause, he said, “That feels good.”
“I was so afraid that was going to happen,” his wife, Sharon said. “He just didn’t feel well at all this morning.”
The moment was almost perfect…Almost.
Whereas Elder was able to be there to witness history when a young mentee of his named Eldrick Tiger Woods won his first Green jacket back in 1997, crushing the field by 12 shots, Tiger is still recovering from a vicious car crash and couldn’t return the favor in person.
He was definitely there in spirit. After all, the Masters has been the Tiger Woods show for the past 25 years.
As the players embark on Augusta National this week looking to take home that historic “Green Jacket,” you see the dogwoods and their white blooms to thousands of azalea bushes bursting with purple and pink.
All the April colors have returned to their rightful place at Augusta National except for one. That red shirt will not be making an appearance.
Tiger, clad in his traditional Sunday color, is an indelible and highly-anticipated part of the Masters. It dates back to the practice round he played with greats such as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, after which Nicklaus suggested Woods could end up with more green jackets than the King and the Bear combined.
This is a huge void that the golfing world can’t and won’t fill.
Curtis Strange says no way you can go to Augusta and not think about Woods. In 1997 Tiger basically changed the game at Augusta. That initial Masters win was what many consider a watershed moment in the sport, coming one year after Nicklaus’ bold prediction.
Tiger Woods' 15 majors:
1999 PGA Championship
2000 U.S. Open
2000 The Open
2000 PGA Championship
2002 U.S. Open
2005 The Open
2006 The Open
2006 PGA Championship
2007 PGA Championship
2008 U.S. Open
2019 Masters#LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/ZPsB0CUTsW
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 14, 2019
Woods broke 20 records that historic week as a 21-year-old in his first year as a pro. From there, he carried the sport to a new wave of unforeseen popularity and, because of television contracts and the explosion of brand marketing, everyone around him became much richer.
The 2019 Masters which I like to call, “From Ruin To Redemption” is the perfect bookend. For a guy who’d had four back surgeries, four knee surgeries, and public embarrassment as a result of his private affairs — to come back and win his 15th major, and his fifth green jacket at age 43 was very Bradyesque.
Tiger has won the career Grand Slam three times over, but no matter what he’s accomplished the link has and will always be Augusta.
Woods left the hospital about three weeks ago, but there haven’t been many updates on his current condition. Many experts believe the extent of his injuries has probably brought an end to an illustrious career.
Players like Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy are a part of a small contingent of players who have grown close to Woods and have earned his trust and respect for his privacy. They mentioned they’ve been by his house but didn’t take the conversation much further, and they gave short quick answers as it pertains to any personal questions about Woods.
It’s too early to say if he’ll ever play again at the Masters or period, although he did win the US Open with shredded knee ligaments and two stress fractures. But he is 45 and has a very long recovery ahead of him, I’m just happy he’s still here with us.
Lee Elder too. That’s Black golf in a nutshell.