Opinion | The Masters Has Only One Black Golfer. It Didn’t Have to Be This Way.

By Equipo
4 Min Read

For the decades that Sifford and other Black golfers fought to become P.G.A. members, they dealt with bigotry, death threats and countless humiliations while simply trying to play golf with and against the best players of the era. Because the P.G.A. had explicitly codified racial discrimination in its bylaws, Black golfers not only couldn’t compete as PGA Tour members, they also couldn’t find jobs in P.G.A.-affiliated pro shops — which, until the 1950s, had been the traditional route golfers took to join the P.G.A. The P.G.A. continually thwarted the efforts of Black golfers, abetted by star players who failed to speak up for inclusion.

The battle to integrate professional golf stalled until Attorney General Mosk, enraged by Sifford’s exclusion from the P.G.A., threatened to sue the association to prevent it from holding its segregated tournaments in California. Several other state attorneys joined Mosk in the fight, and their resolve forced the P.G.A. to eliminate the Caucasians-only clause. The removal of what Mosk called “this obnoxious restriction” paved the way for Sifford to become a full-time member.

But Sifford’s breakthrough did not open the gates to Black players. Fifteen years after Robinson broke baseball’s color line, Black players represented over 10 percent of Major League Baseball rosters. Yet decades after Sifford’s breakthrough there was still only a handful of Black golfers on the pro tour. The Masters waited an unforgivable 41 years from its inception before inviting a Black player to participate, when Elder broke the color barrier in 1975. Even after Sifford won two PGA Tour events, the Masters refused to invite him to its tournament. Sifford never set foot on the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club.

Little has changed. The 2022 Masters featured just three Black players, which was a record high for the tournament. There were no Black golfers last year in the United States Open, and this year’s Masters features only Woods — who has publicly credited Sifford with making his career possible, calling him “the grandpa I never had,” and named his son Charlie in Sifford’s honor. But Woods, who is 48 and oft-injured, can no longer play a full schedule, which means there are only two Black golfers today who play professionally with any regularity. One is Cameron Champ, a three-time PGA Tour winner. The other, Harold Varner III, is no longer a member of the P.G.A., having joined the Saudi-backed LIV tour.

There are currently efforts to promote diversity in golf, such as the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption at the Genesis Invitational, which sets aside a spot in the tournament for a golfer of color every year. Why not introduce such an exemption at every P.G.A. tournament? The P.G.A. should also be funding more programs to develop young Black golfers, as well as interest in golf among Black athletes. This year, the basketball star Stephen Curry — who funded the revival of the golf program at the historically Black Howard University — will be honored at the World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony with the Charlie Sifford Award for advancing diversity in golf. The P.G.A. should follow Curry’s lead.

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