Lee Elder, who was the first black player to compete in the Masters, has died at the age of 87.
The news, which was first reported by African American Golfer’s Digest and confirmed by the PGA Tour, comes just over seven months since Elder joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as an honorary starter at Augusta National.
Elder, who made his Masters debut in 1975 and recorded a best finish of joint 17th in 1979, was not well enough to hit a ceremonial drive but was warmly applauded after being introduced to the spectators by Masters chairman Fred Ridley.
“Today, Lee Elder will inspire us and make history once more, not with a drive, but with his presence, strength and character,” Ridley said at the time.
Nicklaus and Player hit drives on the first before retiring to the clubhouse and giving a press conference alongside Elder.
“For me and my family, I think it was one of the most emotional experiences that I have ever witnessed or been involved in,” Elder said.
“It is certainly something that I will cherish for the rest of my life because I have loved coming to Augusta National and playing here with many of my friends that are members here, and at the request and invitation of (former tournament director) Buzzy Johnson, who has also had me.
“My heart is very soft this morning, not heavy soft, soft because of the wonderful things that I have encountered since arriving here on Monday and being able to see some of the great friends that I have made over the past years, especially like these two gentlemen that are here.
“We have competed against each other, and we have certainly enjoyed a lot of pleasant moments.
“I just want to say thank you so very much to have me here. It’s a great honour, and I cherish it very much, and I will always cherish it, and I want to thank the chairman for extending me this great privilege.”
Nicklaus wrote on Twitter: “Lee Elder was a pioneer in so many ways.
“Yes, he was the first black golfer to play in the Masters, but that simply underlined the hard work Lee put in to further the cause of everyone who has a dream to play on the PGA Tour and thinks there were too many barriers before them.
“It was wonderful that the Masters and Augusta National paid a well-deserved tribute to Lee by inviting him to be an Honorary Starter on this last Masters. That morning, you could see the joy in Lee’s face, and Gary Player and I were honored to enjoy that moment with him.
“Lee was a good player, but most important, a good man who was very well respected by countless people. The game of golf lost a hero in Lee Elder. Barbara and I send our heartfelt condolences to Lee’s wife Sharon and their entire family.”
Renee Powell, who was the second African-American woman to play on the LPGA Tour, paid tribute to her friend on Facebook.
Powell, 75, wrote: “Overnight, I was very saddened to hear of the death of my good friend Lee Elder.
“Lee had called me last week about doing a project together this summer. We actually joined our respective Tours together after both winning the United Golfers Association (UGA) National in the same year.
“This year, I was proudly standing next to the first tee at Augusta National when Lee was given Honorary Starter status alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to open the Masters.
“Thank goodness, Lee was finally recognized there! Please keep his wife, Sharon, in your prayers.”