Charlie Sifford, who only wanted a chance to play and who broke the color barrier in golf as the first black PGA Tour member, died Tuesday night, the PGA of America said.
Sifford, who recently had suffered a stroke, was 92. Details of his death and funeral arrangements were not immediately available.
“His love of golf, despite many barriers in his path, strengthened him as he became a beacon for diversity in our game,” PGA of America president Derek Sprague said. “By his courage, Dr. Sifford inspired others to follow their dreams. Golf was fortunate to have had this exceptional American in our midst.”
A proud man who endured racial taunts and threats, Sifford set modest goals and achieved more than he had imagined.
Sifford challenged the Caucasian-only clause, and the PGA rescinded it in 1961. He won the Greater Hartford Open in 1967 and the Los Angeles Open in 1969. He also won the 1975 Senior PGA Championship, five years before the Champions Tour was created.
His career was fully recognized in 2004 when he became the first African-American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. This past November, President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer are the only other golfers who received that honor.
“Charlie won tournaments, but more important, he broke a barrier,” Nicklaus once said. “I think what Charlie Sifford has brought to his game has been monumental.”
The one goal that eluded him was a chance to play in the Masters, which did not invite its first black player until Lee Elder in 1975. Sifford remained bitter, although the pain was eased when Tiger Woods won the first of his four green jackets in 1997.
Woods often has said he would not have played golf if not for Sifford and other black pioneers.
“It’s been tough. Very tough,” Woods said in a statement Wednesday. “As I’ve alluded to in the past, he’s like my grandpa that I never had. And it’s been a long night and it’s going to be a long few days.
“But he fought, and what he did, the courage it took for him to stick with it and be out here and play, I probably wouldn’t be here, my dad wouldn’t have picked up the game, who knows if the clause would still exist or not. But he broke it down.”