Charlie Sifford: The first black golf pro who paved the way for Tiger Woods.

But Sifford did not give up.

Tiger Woods with Sifford during the practice round of the 2009 Bridgestone Invitational Golf World Championship.

By breaking the “whites only” clause in golf, Sifford helped open doors for other black golfers, including the most famous black player of all time, Woods.

And that’s what Woods admitted when he said in 2015 after Sifford’s death that he himself might not have been a professional golfer if not for Sifford.

“He’s like the grandfather I never had.” – Woods. said after a practice round before the 2015 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, the day after Sifford’s death. “It’s been a long night and I’m sure it’s going to be a long few days. He struggled and what he did found in him the courage to stick with it and be here and play.

“Probably I wouldn’t be here (without Sifford). My father would never have taken up the game. Who knows if this item would exist or not? But he broke it.”

Although Sifford was the first black player to succeed in golf, he had a close friend to lean on.

Robinson, who crossed the color barrier in Major League Baseball as a player in 1947, was a friend of Sifford and, from his own experience, gave the golfer some advice before he began his journey to get on the Tour.

“Jackie told him that he would have to face many things, not react to many things, because once he did, it would be harder and harder for the people who came after him.” – Charles Sifford. , Charlie’s son, recalls.

“So he kept his upper lip, bit his tongue, and just dealt with what was presented to him, because he knew that if he screwed up, it would be even harder for the next guy.”

Sifford studies an injection at the FHP Health Classic at the Ojai Inn Country Club in Ojai, California.

Need to move

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1922, Sifford got into golf through the only path available to a young black child, the caddy.

But he wanted to play the game – in age out of 13, he could shoot 18 holes and not carry someone else’s bag.

However, because he grew up in an era of segregation, it was not easy for him to gain experience in the courses.

He eventually started playing professionally in 1948, but due to the so-called “Caucasian Only” clause, which forbade black players from playing with their white counterparts, Sifford had to settle for playing only black competition.

By the time Sifford was 30, segregation laws were being phased out, but golf proved to be slower in development.

“In 1959, you still had a Caucasians only clause, and it was easy to see how it could survive because these private clubs played golf and could continue to enforce segregation rules.” — Nancy Churnin, author . “Charlie Strikes: How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf,” CNN Sport told CNN Sport.

Sifford trains at the shooting range.

“So, if you can’t set foot in these private clubs, how are you going to play?”

Sifford’s decision to take part in the PGA Tour was not spontaneous. It was what he had worked for for years.

His first attempt at the Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA) tour in 1952 was With with vitriol and racial pressure.

At the Phoenix Open, Sifford and his all-black four, which included heavyweight boxer Joe Louis, found excrement in the bowl of the first hole and had to wait almost an hour for her to be replaced.

Unable to show his ability with all the top players, Sifford used his talents elsewhere – and found great success.

He won the National Negro Open of the United Golf Association six times, winning in a row from 1952 to 1956.

However, his dream was to demonstrate his ability on the biggest golf scene with the best in the business, and for this he had to make some sacrifices, as his son Charles recalls.

“When I was about 10 years old, I realized that we live in Philadelphia and my father really can’t play many tournaments,” he told CNN Sport. “There wasn’t a lot of golf exposure on the East Coast, so we moved to the West Coast when I was 10 years old. And then he told me that in order to succeed or have a chance of success, we must move to the west. “

Sifford receives the North South Negro Golf Tournament trophy from Nat nightclub celebrity "King"  Cole.

making my way through

Baseball star Robinson was an inspiration and an example of what Sifford hoped to achieve in golf. But Sifford also realized that he would need legal help.

After moving to the US West Coast, Sifford became friends with California Attorney General Stanley Mosk.

Mosk was Jewish and also experienced discrimination. He played golf at the Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles, where members of the Jewish community were admitted when other clubs would not allow them access.

Award-winning actor Billy Crystal in his panegyric for Muhammad Ali at the great boxer’s funeral in 2016, recalled an incident that highlighted golf’s closed door policy.

Ali invited his good friend Crystal to go for a run on the golf course, not realizing that the club does not allow Jewish members.

“(Ali) was furious: “I am a black Muslim and they let me run there. Little brother, I will never run there again,” Krystal recalls Ali’s words.

Billy Crystal and Muhammad Ali at the Audemars Piguet Time To Give Celebrity Watch Audemars Piguet charity auction at Christie's New York in 2000.

Sifford’s skill impressed Mosk immediately. And the fact that a person with such abilities could not perform on the biggest stage outraged him.

So Mosk set about helping Sifford in his quest to play on the PGA Tour.

As Attorney General of California, Mosk was able to make a political contribution to Sifford’s battle. Mosk later served as an Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court for 37 years, the longest tenure in that court’s history.

After years of writing and talking, Sifford finally received a PGA Tour player card in 1960 at the age of 39, becoming the first black player to play on the tour.

A year later, after considerable pressure, the PGA Tour canceled the “Caucasus only” membership clause.

However, Sifford was constantly subjected to racist abuse from white golfers and spectators.

His son Charles also remembers hearing stories of death threats against his father during those years.

“The few times he played in the South[US region]he received several death threats,” Charles explained. “People called him in the hotel room and said that if he appeared on the golf course, he would be killed.

“He said, ‘Well, you’ll just have to do it because I’ll be showing up on the golf course.’ “So he was just determined not to let anyone stand in his way and do what he wanted. And he had this drive. The more you tried to stop him, the more he tried to succeed.”

Illustration from the book

wind change

Despite being in his 30s when he entered the PGA Tour, Sifford was still able to show that he could compete with the best golfers despite the hostility he faced both on and off the golf course. outside of it.

Churnin recalls reading about hotels that didn’t rent him rooms, or clubs that still wouldn’t let him eat with other professionals or use the locker room because of his skin color.

However, the 1967 Greater Hartford Open—now the Travelers’ Championship—in Connecticut proved to be a watershed. “It was the first time the crowd was on his side,” Churnin said.

And it seemed to matter, as Sifford took his first PGA Tour win at the event, becoming the first black player to earn a PGA Tour win.

Sifford receives a check for $20,000 plus a trophy after winning the Los Angeles Open.

Although he didn’t know his father had won because golf wasn’t televised like it is today, Charles remembers the tangible change in Sifford after the landmark victory.

“I saw it in the paper and I was really excited for him because it was a lifelong dream to win the PGA Tour. And it took a lot of pressure off him. He seemed more relaxed knowing he did it once and there was always a chance he could do it again.”

Sifford won the 1969 Los Angeles Open (now The Genesis Invitational) as well as the 1975 Senior PGA Championship and became an early member of the PGA Tour Champions where he won the Suntree Classic.

In 2004, he became the first black golfer to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Sifford during the Ralph's Senior Classic on October 21, 1994 at Rancho Park Golf Course in Los Angeles

Paving the way

President Barack Obama also awarded Sifford the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom “for changing the course of the sport and the country he loved.”

Although Charles admits that Sifford was “extremely disappointed” he was not followed by a large influx of black golfers, he was very proud to be the first black player on the PGA Tour.

Churnin says it’s not because of a lack of effort or commitment on Sifford’s part that the number of blacks following in his footsteps in golf hasn’t been huge.

US President Barack Obama then presents the Medal of Freedom to Sifford on November 24, 2014.

“We all have different tools at our disposal,” she explained. “Some of us use words, some of us use music, some of us will run for office, some of us will become legal scholars.

“We all come into this world, and our job when we come into this world is to try to make the world a better place – better, more equal, more fair, kinder, more loving, more inclusive. a man who used the tool of a golf club to fight for justice He knew he would not see the full fruits of that struggle in his life.

“But he used his golf club for justice, for equality, to make the world a better place for others. And he saw the promised land from where he was, because now that he’s kicked down that door, he’s turned it into a place where others behind him can go and realize their golf course dreams.”