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
News Editor

Elliott Heath is our News Editor and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016 after graduating with a degree in Sports Journalism. He manages the Golf Monthly news team as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. He covered the 2022 Masters from Augusta National as well as five Open Championships on-site including the 150th at St Andrews. His first Open was in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, when he walked inside the ropes with Jordan Spieth during the Texan's memorable Claret Jug triumph. He has played 35 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Western Gailes, Old Head and Turnberry. He has been obsessed with the sport since the age of 8 and currently plays off of a six handicap. His golfing highlights are making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, shooting an under-par round, playing in the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour and making his one and only hole-in-one at the age of 15 - a long time ago now!

Elliott is currently playing:

Driver: Titleist TSR4

3 wood: Titleist TSi2

Hybrids: Titleist 816 H1

Irons: Mizuno MP5 5-PW

Wedges: Cleveland RTX ZipCore 50, 54, 58

Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5

Ball: Srixon Z Star XV