Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lee Elder - You Are Welcome, Tiger Woods - 4/9/2012

Today I participated as a volunteer in a charity golf event. As a course marshal I had the opportunity to meet a lot of celebrities, quasi-celebrities, wannabe-celebrities and golf professionals. By and large the experience was enjoyable and a very rewarding experience. There was one moment that stood out to me and left an impression.

I met a golf professional named Lee Elder. Unless you are a fan of professional golf you have probably not heard of this man. He only won 4 PGA events in his career. Today he did not play nearly as well as most of his fellow professionals. His team did not win today's event.

Lee Elder is a 77 year old black man. Though you would never know it by looking at him. Not the black part. That is readily evident. You would never guess he is 77 years old. He is fit, strong, and still swings pretty fluidly.

Without Lee Elder, there would have been no Tiger Woods. Lee was the first black man to play in the Masters. He entered in 1975 amid death threats, heckling, and hate. Golf is a tough enough game to play at that level without being distracted by overt hostility. Today's pros are distracted by the click of a camera. This man endured things being thrown at him in his backswing.

In 1979, he became the first black man to represent the United States in the Ryder Cup. Again, those not familiar with golf will not appreciate the significance of this honor. Suffice to say, Lee was one of the top 12 golfers in America that year. And he proudly represented a country in which he was not awarded all the privileges of full citizenship.

I do not have a very elaborate belief system but I think we should celebrate the accomplishments of a man, not his color or lack of it. And every man should have the opportunity to go as far in life as his talents allow, regardless of pigmentation. Sports are microcosms of society in general. At the same time Lee Elder was struggling to make a career as a golf pro, others were denied access to the pursuit of their dreams because of bigotry and racism.

As a Caucasian, I do not profess even a rudimentary understanding of the barriers that Mr. Elder overcame, I can only voice my respect and admiration and what a thrill it was to meet him.


Kirk Hage said...

Very eloquent, Rick.

Lee Elder is a memorable figure in my white midwestern upbringing. He was than as it appears that he is now a man entitled to our respect and admiration.

I am glad to read that he is doing well.

Lura said...

This is a nice tribute to golf's answer to Jackie Robinson. There should be a key stroke for "thumbs up".

Dr. David Powers said...

Great blog post! I love that you celebrated a true celebrity instead of one of the 'others'.

orionsbow said...

Reading your stuff always leaves me wondering what sage wisdom or unexpected and brilliant observation will grace your pages next. That you would pause to examine the lifelong underlying social difficulties that would have to have been overcome for this talented man to even stand there on the golf course with the storied professional past he has amassed is not something the average person would even give a thought. You are a man of substance from whom, I have always believed, we can all learn something that we could use to make ourselves better. Bigotry is a difficult demon to conquer and I have struggled with it my whole life. But I think that it's fascinating how those old stereotypes seem to fall away, at least for me, when great men like this enter the equation.

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Colleen Friesen said...

Thank you for such a great tribute. Mr. Elder looks like a very classy man. I can't begin to imagine all he has had to endure. An inspiring post...thank you.

Edward said...

I came across this blog as my wife are preparing to return to our favorite golfing N Myrtle Beach hotels. I will remember to play a round with Lee Elder. I really enjoyed this story and I agree with you on the last part, I have no idea what it took for him or how it felt to break those barriers, but I have nothing but the finest respect for him paving the way for others!