I hope you readers have been enjoying the stories on the life of Sam Lacy as much as I have enjoyed writing them. However, today Sam has been relegated to the back burner so I can share some history with you.
African-American golfing pioneer Charlie Sifford has taken his last stroll down the 18th fairway and has gone off to enjoy the comforts of that clubhouse in the sky. Charlie was 92 and the number of lives he impacted is countless.
As the first of his race to compete against White golfers, Charlie held out hope for exemplary golfers such as Bill Spider and Teddy Rhodes. Spider and Rhodes had been knocking on that door guarded by Jim Crow and came away without entry for years. When Sifford got his foot in the door, a ray of light was visible to those on the darker side of segregation.
To America, this Black man dressed in golf clothes and wielding a club was an oddity on their TV set. It took more than a minute for the general public to realize that, “This guy can play!”
Charlie didn’t just appear on the golf course and decide he wanted to be a star, he had the seed planted in him when he was 13. He worked as a caddy making 60 cents a day, and pieced together found equipment to hone his game. His mother appreciated the much-needed 60 cents and encouraged Charlie to keep doing what he was doing.
When he hit the segregation rough spots, he had the support of sports stars such as Don Newcombe (Dodger pitcher), Sugar Ray Robinson (boxing champion), Joe Louis (boxing champion) and Jackie Robinson who had already made history by kicking open that door guarded by Jim Crow. These guys knew that Charlie would be a force on the PGA Tour, because he had already won the Negro National Open six times.
Charlie was encouraged when Spider and Rhodes finished with good enough scores at the Los Angeles Open to qualify for other PGA events. However, paranoid PGA officials blocked their entry and had sponsors change their events to “Open Invitationals.” Problem solved. If you ain’t invited, you can’t play.
Some say Charlie’s gruff exterior may have had something to do with his long wait to gain entry to the “Whites Only Club.” There may be something to that, because he did seem to have a chip on his shoulder.
Sam once commented, “You had me worried for a while, but I’m glad you won.”
Charlie responded around his ever present cigar, “What did you expect?”
From that moment, it took a while for Charlie to get off of Sam’s “S” list.
Despite his gruff exterior, Charlie made a point of setting an example for upcoming golfers such as Jim and Chuck Thorpe, Lee Elder and Calvin Peete. Chuck once commented that it was a lot easier to do when you see it has already been done.
During his career, Charlie amassed more than $1,200,000, and once commented, “It beats factory work.”
Charlie has taken his game to a golf course where it never rains, the grass is always green, and your putts run true. I only hope that heaven doesn’t run out of cigars.