Lee Elder

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Lee Elder
Lee Elder 1975.jpg
Elder in 1975
Personal information
Full nameRobert Lee Elder
Born (1934-07-14) July 14, 1934 (age 84)
Dallas, Texas
Height5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)
Weight175 lb (79 kg; 12.5 st)
Nationality United States
ResidencePompano Beach, Florida
Turned professional1959
Former tour(s)PGA Tour
Champions Tour
Professional wins15
Number of wins by tour
PGA Tour4
PGA Tour Champions8
Best results in major championships
Masters TournamentT17: 1979
U.S. OpenT11: 1979
The Open ChampionshipT36: 1979
PGA ChampionshipT11: 1974

Robert Lee Elder (born July 14, 1934) is a retired American professional golfer. He is best remembered for becoming the first African-American to play in the Masters Tournament in 1975.[1][2]

Background and family[edit]

One of ten children, Elder was born in Dallas, Texas, to Charles and Almeta Elder. He was nine years old when his father was killed in Germany during World War II, and his mother died three months later. At the age of 12, Elder found himself moving from one ghetto to another before being sent to Los Angeles, California to live with his aunt. Elder frequently cut classes to work as a caddie, and after two years at Manual Arts High School he dropped out.

Elder met his future wife, Rose Harper, at a golf tournament in Washington, D.C. The two married in 1966. After getting married, Rose gave up her golfing career to become his manager.

Professional career[edit]

Life before the PGA Tour[edit]

Elder did not play a full round of 18 holes until he was 16. He took jobs in pro shops and locker rooms, in addition to caddying where he developed his game by watching his clients, and playing when he had the opportunity. Elder's game developed sufficiently for him to start hustling. His career took a big step after playing a match with heavyweight boxer Joe Louis, which led to Louis’s golf instructor, Ted Rhodes, taking Elder under his wing for three years. Under the tutelage of Rhodes, Elder was able to polish his game and he began playing in tournaments.

In 1959, Elder was drafted into the Army, and was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington. While at Fort Lewis, Elder had the good fortune to be under the command of Colonel John Gleaster who was an avid golfer. Gleaster put Elder in a special services unit, which allowed him the opportunity to play golf on a steady basis.

Elder was discharged from the army in 1961, and joined the United Golf Association Tour (UGA) for black players. He had a dominant stretch in which he won 18 of 22 consecutive tournaments, but this tour did not have large prizes, often in the range of $500.

The PGA Tour[edit]

In 1967 Elder raised enough money to attend qualifying school for the PGA Tour. He finished 9th out of a class of 122 and gained his tour card for 1968. That year, he placed 40th on the money list in 1968, bringing in approximately $38,000. The highlight of Elder's rookie season was a memorable playoff loss to Jack Nicklaus at the American Golf Classic. Elder took Nicklaus to the fifth hole of sudden death before losing.

In 1971 Elder accepted a personal invitation from Gary Player to participate in the South African PGA Championship in Johannesburg, South Africa. The event marked the first integrated tournament in the country’s history. The country had apartheid policies in effect at the time, but he agreed to participate after the South African government agreed not to subject him or spectators to the usual segregation requirements. He also played in a number of other tournaments in Southern Africa plus he won the Nigerian Open in 1971.

In 1974, Elder earned his first win on the PGA Tour at the Monsanto Open, which gained him entry to the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia the following year. This marked the first time an African American had qualified for the Masters since it began in 1934. Elder shot a 74 on day one and a 78 on day two of the 1975 Masters, missing the cut, but the impact of his presence in the field was clear.

In 1979 he became the first African American to qualify for play in the Ryder Cup. In 1984 at the age of 50, Elder joined the Senior PGA Tour.

The fight against racism[edit]

Life on tour[edit]

In 1975, Elder became the first African American to play in the Masters.[3] Leading up to the tournament he received substantial amounts of hate mail. Fearing for his safety, during the week of the tournament he rented two houses in town and kept moving between them, and always had people around him when he went to eat.

At the Monsanto Open in 1968 in Pensacola, Florida, the same tournament at which he claimed his first PGA Tour victory six years later to qualify for the Masters, Elder and other black players on tour were forced to change their clothes in the parking lot because members of the club would not allow non-whites in their clubhouse. While playing in a tournament in Memphis, Tennessee, a fan picked up Elder's ball on a hole and threw it in a hedge. The incident was witnessed by another pro golfer, and Elder was given a free drop.

Elder tried to stay focused on the game, but unlike the majority of players on tour he was constantly bothered by unruly fans, frequently receiving hate mail and threatening phone calls.

Giving back and speaking out[edit]

Elder and his wife set up the Lee Elder Scholarship Fund in 1974. This fund was developed to offer monetary aid to low-income young men and women seeking money for college.

In 1986 he protested to the PGA governors for allowing four American golfers to play in a tournament in Sun City, Bophuthatswana, a small area set up by the apartheid regime of South Africa that surrounds it.

In 1990, Elder spoke out against country clubs that still excluded blacks from membership. Elder has actively promoted Summer Youth Golf Development Programs, raised money for the United Negro College Fund, and served on the advisory boards of Goodwill Industries.

Professional wins (14)[edit]

PGA Tour wins (4)[edit]

No. Date Tournament Winning score Margin of victory Runner-up
1 Apr 21, 1974 Monsanto Open –10 (67-69-71-67=274) Playoff England Peter Oosterhuis
2 May 2, 1976 Houston Open –10 (70-72-67-69=278) 1 stroke United States Forrest Fezler
3 Jul 9, 1978 Greater Milwaukee Open –13 (66-70-70-69=275) Playoff United States Lee Trevino
4 Aug 20, 1978 American Express Westchester Classic –10 (71-68-68-67=274) 1 stroke United States Mark Hayes

PGA Tour playoff record (2–2)

No. Year Tournament Opponent(s) Result
1 1968 American Golf Classic United States Frank Beard, United States Jack Nicklaus Nicklaus won with birdie on fifth extra hole
Beard eliminated with birdie on first hole
2 1972 Greater Hartford Open United States Lee Trevino Lost to birdie on first extra hole
3 1974 Monsanto Open England Peter Oosterhuis Won with birdie on fourth extra hole
4 1978 Greater Milwaukee Open United States Lee Trevino Won with par on eighth extra hole

Other wins (2)[edit]

Senior PGA Tour wins (8)[edit]

No. Date Tournament Winning score Margin of
1 Aug 28, 1984 Suntree Senior Classic –16 (64-66-70=200) 6 strokes United States Miller Barber, United States Gay Brewer
2 Sep 19, 1984 Hilton Head Seniors International –13 (68-69-66=203) 3 strokes Australia Peter Thomson
3 Jun 2, 1985 Denver Post Champions of Golf –3 (68-69-76=213) 1 stroke Australia Peter Thomson
4 Jul 28, 1985 Merrill Lynch/Golf Digest Commemorative Pro-Am –11 (61-72=133) Playoff Australia Peter Thomson
5 Aug 4, 1985 Digital Seniors Classic –8 (73-67-68=208) Playoff United States Jerry Barber, United States Don January
6 Sep 1, 1985 Citizens Union Senior Golf Classic –7 (67-68=135) Playoff United States Orville Moody, United States Dan Sikes, United States Walt Zembriski
7 Aug 3, 1986 Merrill Lynch/Golf Digest Commemorative –11 (67-64-68=199) 2 strokes United States Chi-Chi Rodríguez
8 Nov 20, 1988 Gus Machado Senior Classic –11 (67-70-65=202) 5 strokes United States Al Geiberger

Senior PGA Tour playoff record (3–0)

No. Year Tournament Opponent(s) Result
1 1985 Merrill Lynch/Golf Digest Commemorative Pro-Am Australia Peter Thomson Won with eagle on first extra hole
2 1985 Digital Seniors Classic United States Jerry Barber, United States Don January Elder won with birdie on first extra hole
3 1985 Citizens Union Senior Golf Classic United States Orville Moody, United States Dan Sikes, United States Walt Zembriski Elder won with birdie on third extra hole
Moody eliminated with birdie on second hole

Japan Senior wins (2)[edit]

  • 1984 Coca-Cola Grandslam Championship
  • 1986 Coca-Cola Grandslam Championship

Results in major championships[edit]

Tournament 1966 1967 1968 1969
Masters Tournament
U.S. Open T57 CUT CUT 67
The Open Championship
PGA Championship CUT
Tournament 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
Masters Tournament CUT T19 T42 T17
U.S. Open CUT T29 T45 CUT T35 CUT T30 T11
The Open Championship T36
PGA Championship CUT T24 T24 T11 T15 CUT T42 T35
Tournament 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984
Masters Tournament CUT CUT
U.S. Open CUT T33
The Open Championship
PGA Championship T26 T49 T80 CUT
  Did not play

CUT = missed the half-way cut
"T" indicates a tie for a place


Tournament Wins 2nd 3rd Top-5 Top-10 Top-25 Events Cuts made
Masters Tournament 0 0 0 0 0 2 6 3
U.S. Open 0 0 0 0 0 1 14 8
The Open Championship 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
PGA Championship 0 0 0 0 0 4 13 9
Totals 0 0 0 0 0 7 34 21
  • Most consecutive cuts made – 7 (1978 Masters – 1979 PGA)
  • Longest streak of top-10s – 0

U.S. national team appearances[edit]



  1. ^ McDaniel, Pete (April 2000). "The trailblazer - Twenty-five years ago, Lee Elder became the first black golfer in the Masters". Golf Digest. Archived from the original on February 7, 2008. Retrieved March 3, 2009.
  2. ^ "The Courage of Lee Elder". Sports Illustrated. April 7, 2008. Retrieved March 3, 2009.
  3. ^ "The man who defied death threats to play at the Masters". BBC News. Retrieved April 10, 2015.

External links[edit]