Lee Elder Dies Aged 87 - The First Black Golfer To Play The Masters

Lee Elder has passed away in the year he became an honorary starter at The Masters after becoming the first black golfer to compete at the Augusta National showpiece in 1975

Lee Elder pictured at the 1975 Masters
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Lee Elder, the first black golfer to play in The Masters, has died at the age of 87.

Born in Dallas, Texas, Lee Elder was the youngest of eight siblings and went on to have a glittering career as a professional golfer that included multiple Tour victories and a Ryder Cup appearance.

His journey in the game began because one of his brothers was a caddie. Elder got a job at the golf club collecting stray balls and followed his brother in becoming a caddie when he was big enough.

He started playing on the United Golf Association Tour, which was an African-American Tour away from the PGA Tour as black golfers couldn't compete on the main Tour until 1961. Seven years later he joined the PGA Tour after raising enough money for Q-School in 1967.

Despite playing on the PGA Tour, he endured a challenging time that included suffering from racism. Elder was once penalised during a tournament in Memphis, Tennessee after a spectator took his ball from the fairway. He also had to change in the car park in a Florida tournament as black people were not allowed in the clubhouse.

Lee Elder and Tiger Woods at the 2000 Masters

Elder with Tiger Woods at the 2000 Masters

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Elder was able to show his golfing talents on Tour and went on to become the first ever black man to compete at The Masters in 1975 after winning his maiden PGA Tour title at the 1974 Monsanto Open at Pensacola in Florida. He was 40 when he made his Masters debut and he would miss the cut but did manage a T17 and T19 in six Masters appearances.

Tiger Woods acknowledged that Lee Elder was an inspiration for his career. "Lee Elder meant a lot to me because he was the first. He was the one that I looked up to and because of what he did, I was able to play and to live my dream," Woods said.

Lee Elder at the 2021 Masters with Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus

Elder was an honorary starter at the 2021 Masters alongside Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus

(Image credit: Getty Images)

At the 2021 Masters, 46 years on from his tournament debut, he would become an honory starter along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Elder was not well enough to hit a drive but received rapturous applause from fans on-site and watching on from around the world.

Elder won a total of four PGA Tour titles and had eight Senior PGA Tour victories by the end of his career. He also won the 1971 Nigerian Open and 1984 Jamaican Open. He also appeared for Team USA at the 1979 Ryder Cup, where the USA won 17-11 at The Greenbrier. His best Major finishes were T11s at the 1974 PGA Championship and 1979 US Open.

Elliott Heath
Elliott Heath

Elliott Heath is our Senior Staff Writer and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016. He graduated in Sports Journalism in 2016 and currently manages the Golf Monthly news, courses and travel sections as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Elliott has interviewed some huge names in the golf world including Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn, Bernd Wiesberger and Scotty Cameron as well as a number of professionals on the DP World and PGA Tours. He has also covered three Open Championships on-site including at Carnoustie in 2018 when he was inside the ropes with Tiger Woods. He has played 31 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Old Head and Alwoodley. He currently plays at West Byfleet Golf Club in Surrey, where his handicap index floats between 3-5. His golfing highlight is making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, and he has made one hole-in-one.


Elliott is currently playing:


Driver: Honma TR20

3 wood: TaylorMade SIM2 Max

Hybrid: TaylorMade SIM Max

Irons: Mizuno MP5

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design

Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x