The Masters: A profile of honorary starter Lee Elder, the first Black man to play in the tournament

A look at the life and career of Lee Elder, the first Black man to play in The Masters, who will be among the honorary starters at Augusta National on Thursday morning; watch The Masters live on Sky Sports The Masters from 2pm on Thursday

Last Updated: 06/04/21 5:01pm

Lee Elder was in attendance at Augusta National last year and will be back on the first tee this year

Back in 1975, Lee Elder became the first Black man to play in The Masters and he will be back at Augusta National this year.

At the age of 86, Elder will be one of the three honorary starters for the 85th Masters on Thursday morning, alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, confirmed Elder’s role on the first tee in an announcement ahead of the 84th Masters last November when he also revealed a Lee Elder Scholarship was to be created.

Two scholarships in Elder’s name will be awarded annually to a player who competes on the men’s golf team at Paine College, a historically Black college and university in Augusta, and one to a player on the new women’s team, funded by the golf club.

Elder and Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf, on the first tee last November

Elder and Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf, on the first tee last November

After learning of his invite last November, Elder said: “The opportunity to earn an invitation to the Masters and stand at that first tee was my dream and to have it come true in 1975 remains one of the greatest highlights of my career and life.

“So to be invited back to the first tee one more time to join Jack and Gary for next year’s Masters means the world to me.”

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Elder was born in Dallas on July 14, 1934, the youngest of eight children, but later moved to Los Angeles to live with his aunt following the death of his father in World War II and his mother three months later.

He did not play a full round of 18 holes until he was 16 and worked in pro shops and locker rooms and as a caddy, as well as doing some hustling, before being drafted into the Army in 1959, where he had the opportunity to play golf on a regular basis thanks to his golf-loving colonel.

After being discharged from the Army in 1961 he joined the United Golf Association Tour for black players and enjoyed plenty of success, winning 18 out of 22 tournaments during one stretch, although the prize money was low.

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Elder attended the PGA Tour’s qualifying school in 1967 after raising enough money and secured his tour card for 1968 after finishing ninth of the 122 players.

He was 40th on the money list in his rookie season with his best performance a play-off defeat to Jack Nicklaus at the American Golf Classic.

Elder was invited by Player to compete in the South African PGA Championship in 1971, a significant event as this was the first integrated tournament in the country’s history with the South African government agreeing not to subject him to the usual segregation requirements under its apartheid policies.

Elder arrives at Augusta National for a practice round ahead of the 1975 Masters

Elder arrives at Augusta National for a practice round ahead of the 1975 Masters

He claimed the first of his four PGA Tour wins at the Monsanto Open in 1974, beating England’s Peter Oosterhuis in a play-off, which earned him an invite to The Masters the following year.

This was the first time an African-American had qualified for The Masters since the tournament started in 1934 and Elder received a substantial amount of hate mail, including death threats, in the lead-up to the tournament. He also rented two houses in Georgia and moved between the two so nobody would know where he was staying.

Making his debut at Augusta National at the age of 40, Elder carded rounds of 74 and 78 to miss the cut, but he received a good reception at the course, later saying: “Every green I walked up on, the applause was just tremendous. I mean every one of them people shouted, ‘Go Lee! Good luck Lee!'”

Elder tees off on the first hole in the 1975 Masters

Elder tees off on the first hole in the 1975 Masters

He would go on to make a further five consecutive appearances in The Masters from 1977 to 1981 with a best finish of tied-17th in 1979.

The year 1979 also saw Elder become the first African-American to qualify for the Ryder Cup – he had claimed his final two PGA Tour victories in 1978 – and he went to secure eight Senior PGA Tour wins from 1984 to 1988 before retiring from professional golf in 1990.

He has been a regular presence at The Masters since he stopped playing and early on Thursday morning he will take his place among Masters legends on the first tee at Augusta National.

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