“My Grandfather”, Tiger calls him when he refers to him, but not only. Charlie Woods is named after him, in honor of him, to never forget him.
Charlie Sifford, story
Addicted to golf and cigars, when he arrived in Philadelphia from rural North Carolina in the 1940s, Charlie Sifford realized that black golfers would have no chance.
As well as golf pro and excellent jazz player Billy Eckstine, Sifford collected several wins in the “Negro Tournament” on the UGA but discovered that only white players could enter the PGA Tour. In 1960, the PGA carded it as a player, forced by the California Attorney General, but a player’s card did not give access to the white country clubs where most of the tournaments were played.
Although authorized, Charlie was often unable to change clothes in the clubhouse with other players. Sifford had to endure death threats and insults on the pitch when he showed up at the “all-white” Open in Greensboro in North Carolina.
He even disappeared the banner that announced the victory of a new car for the hole in one before Charlie made it. By unleashing a lawsuit that he would eventually win. He won twice on the PGA Tour in Hartford and Los Angeles and became a legend as a senior member of the PGA.
Charlie Sifford died in early 2015, but not before being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom and an honorary doctorate from St. Andrews University in Scotland. You can read his story in a book he wrote entitled “Just Let me Play” which I would literally translate into “Let me play ….”
Charlie Sifford was born in Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city, in 1922, the son of a factory worker. It was here that his golf career began. The then 13-year-old initially worked as a caddy in an exclusively white golf club.
On Mondays he was also allowed to play golf as a caddy. He proved to be talented: he often played rounds under par. At that time he was earning 60 cents, of which he gave 50 cents to his mother and with the remaining 10 cents he bought a stogie, a cigar, which later became his trademark became.
In 1939, at the age of 17, Sifford came to Philadelphia, where he himself played on various golf courses. Among them was Cobb’s Creek Golf Course, where he often competed against Howard “Butch” Wheeler, another black golfer from Atlanta, eleven years his senior.
At the same time, he worked for the US candy and snack manufacturer Nabisco. In the aftermath Sifford went into military service. He took part in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II. After turning pro in 1946, the following year Sifford met baseball player Jackie Robinson, who had just become the first black player to line up on a major league team since 1888, and shared with him his dream of becoming a player join the PGA Tour.
At that time, participation in the PGA Tour was reserved for whites only in the sign of racial segregation. Robinson said he must not give up fighting for his dream. In the years that followed, Sifford mainly competed in the National Negro Open organized by the United Golf Association (UGA for short) and was a consultant, helper and personal golf instructor for the African-American singer and band leader Billy Eckstine for many years.
He became a top player at the National Negro Open and won the tournament five times in a row between 1952 and 1956. In 1952 he was allowed to play in a PGA tournament for the first time. At the Phoenix Open, he faced three black competitors, including boxer Joe Louis, who later joined Billy Eckstine for Sifford’s career and Sifford’s participation in a PGA Tour as the first black player.
In 1956, Sifford won the Rhode Island Open in addition to the black championships. After winning the Long Beach Open in 1957, which was not an official PGA Tour event but could boast many professional players, Charlie Sifford, who Eckstine just called Little Horse, was already quite close to his breakthrough.
After his sixth win of the UGA National Negro Open, he was also able to win the Almaden Open in the same year, which was an unofficial victory, since the tournament was only held as part of the PGA Tour from the following year.
He played in an average of 15 different PGA golf tournaments, especially from the late 1950s, and also completed numerous other tournaments to which he was invited or where he was allowed to qualify as a black man. In 1959, Sifford finally met Stanley Mosk, then California Attorney General, who knew that Sifford was banned from PGA tournaments in his state.
Mosk confronted PGA Tour officials that Sifford’s civil rights as a California citizen were being violated, while also asking if there were any reasons other than race that he had not received membership. It was not until the following year, 1960, that the PGA of America presented him with the Approved Tournament Player Card, which allowed him to play on the PGA Tour; however, he was still considered a rookie at the time.
In November 1961, after the eligibility requirements were relaxed and the Caucasians-only rule was abolished, Sifford had to wait another three years before becoming an official PGA member with full status. At the Greater Greensboro Open in April 1961, Sifford made his official debut as the first black player on the PGA Tour in the Southern States.
Sifford himself said that racism in golf was far from over. At his first game, for example, he was guarded by armed law enforcement officers before the first hole and received a death threat that same evening. However, Sifford, who is almost 175 cm tall, did not let this hinder him and finished fourth in the final standings.
In subsequent tournaments and years later, Charlie Sifford continued to struggle with racism and ethnophaulism. Furthermore, his game was often disrupted and the ball was often intentionally hit into the rough by his opponents.