AUGUSTA, Ga. – Lee Elder joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player just after dawn Thursday at Augusta National to begin the 85th Masters with a historic ceremony.
Elder, 86, was the first Black player to participate in the Masters in 1975 and he was added to the ceremonial threesome this year alongside Nicklaus and Player. Although he wasn’t able to hit the traditional tee shot because of health issues, the four-time PGA Tour winner savored what he called an “emotional experience.”
“To 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 [Nicklaus and Player] that are here,” Elder said.
Former Masters champions Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson were on the first tee to watch the ceremonial start as was Cameron Champ, one of four Tour members with Black heritage.
Nicklaus won the historic 1975 Masters and was asked what he remembered from Elder’s appearance in the tournament.
“I was kind of astonished when that was announced that a Black player hadn’t played because Lee had certainly played well enough, and he had Teddy Rhodes before him and he had Charlie Sifford before him and fellows who could well have played and been invited to the Masters,” Nicklaus said. “I thought it was long overdue when he finally got invited.”
When tournament officials announced Elder would be joining the ceremonial start they also announced the plan to create two scholarships for players on the men’s golf team at Paine [Ga.] College, a historically Black college, in Elder’s name.