04/08/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 04/08/2021 08:11
AUGUSTA, Ga. - Tradition and progress comingled on Augusta National's first tee Thursday.
The first shots struck at each Masters represent an opportunity to look back before the quest for the Green Jacket becomes the focus. This year, that ceremony included Lee Elder, the first Black man to compete in the Masters. He joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, who combined to win nine Masters, in hitting the honorary opening tee shots.
As the nation reckons with issues of race, Elder's inclusion celebrated his groundbreaking appearance at this tournament in 1975. Elder's name was listed atop the board on the first tee that announces the starters, He was the first to arrive, raising his left arm triumphantly in the air as he received a standing ovation.
Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, wearing their Green Jackets, stood at the back of the tee, along with Cameron Champ. Champ's grandfather, Mack, picked up golf as a caddie in segregated Texas and is the one who introduced Cameron to the game.
Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley introduced Elder by celebrating his groundbreaking appearance at Augusta National.
'Lee Elder is the first Black man to compete in the Masters and in doing so, blazed a trail that will inspire the game of golf and future generations of players,' Ridley said. 'Today, Lee Elder will inspire us and make history once more. Not with a drive, but with his presence, strength and character. Lee, it is my privilege to say, 'You have the honors.''
Black PGA professionals and representatives from Paine College, a historically Black college and university in Augusta, sat along the ropes lining the first tee. The announcement that Elder would participate in Thursday's ceremony was accompanied by the news that Augusta National would endow a Lee Elder Scholarship for one man and one woman on Paine College's golf teams (Augusta National also paid to start a women's golf team at Paine).
Many of Elder's friends and family were there Thursday, as well, wearing green hats celebrating Elder's first Masters appearance. The words 'Stay the Course' were written on the side, a tribute to Elder's pioneering journey from the all-Black United Golfers Association tour to Augusta National.
The standing ovation Elder received Thursday reminded him of his first Masters, when he received a warm reception at the greens and tees.
'It was one of the most emotional experiences I have ever been involved in,' Elder said about Thursday's tee shot. 'It was something I will cherish for the rest of my life.'