Black in the Day…The Godfather of Golf
November 10, 1957:
On this day Charlie Sifford wins the Long Beach Open becoming the first Black man to win a major professional golf tournament.
Sifford was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1922. He began work as a caddy at the age of thirteen. He moved to Philadelphia when he was 17 years old, where he played against local black golfers.
Sifford began golfing professionally in 1948. He competed in the golf tournaments that black golfers organized for themselves as they were excluded from the Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA). Sifford won the United Golf Association‘s National Negro Open six times, including consecutive wins from 1952 through 1956. Sifford later worked as a valet and golf instructor to the singer Billy Eckstine, who also financially supported his career when he was unable to find sponsorship.
In 1957, Sifford won the Long Beach Open, which was not an official PGA Tour event, but was co-sponsored by the PGA and had some well-known white players in the field. Sifford competed in the U. S. Open in 1959 for the first time, and tied for 32nd place. He became a member of the Tour in 1961, thus becoming the first African-American to join the PGA Tour. He went on to win two official money events, the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 Los Angeles Open, and finished in the top 60 in overall winnings in his first nine years as a member of the PGA Tour. He also won the 1963 Puerto Rico Open and at the 1971 Sea Pines. He tied for 21st place at the 1972 U.S. Open, his best finish in a major tournament. He competed in the PGA Seniors’ Championship, then the leading tournament for golfers over fifty, winning the event in 1975.
In 2004, Sifford became the first black golfer to break into another exclusive club. Of the 100 previously enshrined at the World Golf Hall of Fame, none was black. He was selected via the Lifetime Achievement category for his contributions to the game. “Tonight we honor a man not just for what he accomplished on the course, but for the course he chose in life,” South African Gary Player said as he introduced his long-time friend at the induction ceremony in St. Augustine, Fla. On June 22, 2006, he received an honorary degree from the University of St Andrews as a Doctor of Laws. He also received the 2007 Old Tom Morris Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), the GCSAA’s highest honor.
In 2009, the Northern Trust Open created an exemption for a player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf; it is named in honor of Sifford and is referred to as the Charlie Sifford Exemption.
In 2011, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation changed the name of Revolution Park Golf Course to Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park.
President Barack Obama awarded him the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Better late, than never. That’s been the story of Charlie Sifford’s life. “Man, I’m in the Hall of Fame, the World Hall of Fame,” he said in his induction ceremony speech. “Don’t forget that now! I’m in the World Hall of Fame with all the players. That little old golf I played was all right, wasn’t it?”
Sifford, a resident of Brecksville, Ohio, was hospitalized for a stroke one month prior to his death in Cleveland, Ohio. He died on February 3, 2015, following that stroke at the age of 92.