Sifford's Historic Honor

Before Tiger Woods, before Lee Elders and before Jim Thorpe, there was Charlie Sifford, the first black golfer to earn a PGA Tour card. Sifford was named one of 19 recipients of this year’s Presidential Medal of Freedom. Arnold Palmer (2004) and Jack Nicklaus (2005) are the only other golfers to receive the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Think about that. Only three golfers have won the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and now Charlie Sifford. Palmer and Nicklaus, of course, you know about, but Sifford ….

As he says in his autobiography, “Just Let Me Play”, Sifford, now 92, always just wanted a chance for us to get to know him better. He helped desegregate the PGA of America in 1961. He won the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and 1969 Los Angeles Open, won twice on the senior circuit and in 2004 became the first black golfer inducted into the Hall of Fame. The Northern Trust Open has also created an exemption in Sifford’s name that promotes diversity in the game.

When Woods heard of Sifford’s honor, he immediately tweeted: “You're the grandpa I never had. Your past sacrifices allow me to play golf today. I'm so happy for you Charlie.”

Take a moment and check out this moving tribute to Sifford by Farrell Evans, who recalls an ugly incident in the 1961 Greater Greensboro Open. Sifford was the first-round leader, and the night before the second round received a threatening phone call:

"You'd better not bring your black ass out to no golf course tomorrow if you know what's good for you, n-----," said the white man with the Southern accent. "We don't allow no n-----s on our golf course."

Sifford played and for the first 14 holes was taunted by 12 white men shouting racial obscenities. "I knew that if I blew up, it would all be over," Sifford recalled in his autobiography. "I couldn't solve anything by violence. It would just ensure that all blacks, beginning with me, would be permanently barred from the tour.”

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