Lee Elder

Robert Lee Elder (born July 14, 1934) is a retired American professional golfer. In 1975, he became the first African-American to play in the Masters Tournament, where he missed the cut.[1][2] Elder was invited to the tournament after he won the 1974 Monsanto Open.

Lee Elder
Lee Elder 1975.jpg
Elder in 1975
Personal information
Full nameRobert Lee Elder
Born (1934-07-14) July 14, 1934 (age 87)
Dallas, Texas
Height5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)
Weight175 lb (79 kg; 12.5 st)
Sporting nationality United States
ResidencePompano Beach, Florida
Turned professional1959
Former tour(s)PGA Tour
Champions Tour
Professional wins16
Number of wins by tour
PGA Tour4
PGA Tour Champions8
Best results in major championships
Masters TournamentT17: 1979
PGA ChampionshipT11: 1974
U.S. OpenT11: 1979
The Open ChampionshipT36: 1979
Achievements and awards
Bob Jones Award2019

Background and familyEdit

One of ten children, Elder was born in Dallas, Texas, to Charles and Almeta Elder. He was nine years old when his father was killed in Germany during World War II, and his mother died three months later. At the age of 12, Elder found himself moving from one ghetto to another before being sent to Los Angeles, California, to live with his aunt. Elder frequently cut classes to work as a caddie, and after two years at Manual Arts High School he dropped out.

Elder met his first wife, Rose Harper, at a golf tournament in Washington, D.C. The two married in 1966. After getting married, Rose gave up her golfing career to become his manager. They later divorced.

Professional careerEdit

Life before the PGA TourEdit

Elder did not play a full round of 18 holes until he was 16. He took jobs in pro shops and locker rooms, in addition to caddying where he developed his game by watching his clients, and playing when he had the opportunity. Elder's game developed sufficiently for him to start hustling. His career took a big step after playing a match with heavyweight boxer Joe Louis, which led to Louis’s golf instructor, Ted Rhodes, taking Elder under his wing for three years. Under the tutelage of Rhodes, Elder was able to polish his game and he began playing in tournaments.

In 1959, Elder was drafted into the Army, and was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington. While at Fort Lewis, Elder had the good fortune to be under the command of Colonel John Gleaster who was an avid golfer. Gleaster put Elder in a special services unit, which allowed him the opportunity to play golf on a steady basis.

Elder was discharged from the army in 1961, and joined the United Golf Association Tour (UGA) for black players. He had a dominant stretch in which he won 18 of 22 consecutive tournaments, but this tour did not have large prizes, often in the range of $500.

The PGA TourEdit

In 1967 Elder raised enough money to attend qualifying school for the PGA Tour. He finished 9th out of a class of 122 and gained his tour card for 1968. That year, he placed 40th on the money list, bringing in approximately $38,000. The highlight of Elder's rookie season was a memorable playoff loss to Jack Nicklaus at the American Golf Classic. Elder lost to Nicklaus on the fifth hole of sudden death.

In 1971 Elder accepted a personal invitation from Gary Player to participate in the South African PGA Championship in Johannesburg, South Africa. The event marked the first integrated tournament in the country’s history. The country had apartheid policies in effect at the time, but he agreed to participate after the South African government agreed not to subject him or spectators to the usual segregation requirements. He also played in a number of other tournaments in Southern Africa plus he won the Nigerian Open in 1971.

In 1974, Elder earned his first win on the PGA Tour at the Monsanto Open, which gained him entry to the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia the following year. This marked the first time that an African American had qualified for the Masters since the tournament began forty-one years earlier in 1934, which coincidentally was Elder's year of birth. Elder shot a 74 on day one and a 78 on day two of the 1975 Masters, missing the cut, but the impact of his presence in the field was clear.

In 1979 he became the first African American to qualify for play in the Ryder Cup. In 1984 at the age of 50, Elder joined the Senior PGA Tour.

The fight against racismEdit

Life on tourEdit

In 1975, Elder became the first African American to play in the Masters.[3] Leading up to the tournament, he received substantial amounts of hate mail. Fearing for his safety, during the week of the tournament he rented two houses in town and kept moving between them, and always had people around him when he went to eat.

At the Monsanto Open in 1968 in Pensacola, Florida, the same tournament at which he claimed his first PGA Tour victory six years later to qualify for the Masters, Elder and other black players on tour were forced to change their clothes in the parking lot because members of the club would not allow African Americans in their clubhouse. While playing in a tournament in Memphis, Tennessee, a spectator picked up Elder's ball on a hole and threw it in a hedge. The incident was witnessed by another pro golfer, and Elder was given a free drop.

Elder tried to stay focused on the game, but unlike the majority of players on tour he was constantly bothered by unruly fans, frequently receiving hate mail and threatening phone calls.

Giving back and speaking outEdit

Elder and his then wife, Harper, set up the Lee Elder Scholarship Fund in 1974. This fund was developed to offer monetary aid to low-income young men and women seeking money for college.

In 1986 he protested to the PGA governors for allowing four American golfers to play in a tournament in Sun City, Bophuthatswana, a small area set up by the apartheid regime of South Africa that surrounds it.

In 1990, Elder spoke out against country clubs that still excluded Black golfers from membership. Elder has actively promoted Summer Youth Golf Development Programs, raised money for the United Negro College Fund, and served on the advisory boards of Goodwill Industries.

In April 2021, Elder took part in the traditional ceremonial start to the Masters.[4]

Professional wins (16)Edit

PGA Tour wins (4)Edit

No. Date Tournament Winning score Margin of
1 Apr 21, 1974 Monsanto Open −10 (67-69-71-67=274) Playoff   Peter Oosterhuis
2 May 2, 1976 Houston Open −10 (70-72-67-69=278) 1 stroke   Forrest Fezler
3 Jul 9, 1978 Greater Milwaukee Open −13 (66-70-70-69=275) Playoff   Lee Trevino
4 Aug 20, 1978 American Express Westchester Classic −10 (71-68-68-67=274) 1 stroke   Mark Hayes

PGA Tour playoff record (2–2)

No. Year Tournament Opponent(s) Result
1 1968 American Golf Classic   Frank Beard,   Jack Nicklaus Nicklaus won with birdie on fifth extra hole
Beard eliminated by birdie on first hole
2 1972 Greater Hartford Open   Lee Trevino Lost to birdie on first extra hole
3 1974 Monsanto Open   Peter Oosterhuis Won with birdie on fourth extra hole
4 1978 Greater Milwaukee Open   Lee Trevino Won with par on eighth extra hole

Other wins (2)Edit

Senior PGA Tour wins (8)Edit

No. Date Tournament Winning score Margin of
1 Aug 28, 1984 Suntree Senior Classic −16 (64-66-70=200) 6 strokes   Miller Barber,   Gay Brewer
2 Sep 19, 1984 Hilton Head Seniors International −13 (68-69-66=203) 3 strokes   Peter Thomson
3 Jun 2, 1985 Denver Post Champions of Golf −3 (68-69-76=213) 1 stroke   Peter Thomson
4 Jul 28, 1985 Merrill Lynch/Golf Digest Commemorative Pro-Am −11 (61-72=133) Playoff   Peter Thomson
5 Aug 4, 1985 Digital Seniors Classic −8 (73-67-68=208) Playoff   Jerry Barber,   Don January
6 Sep 1, 1985 Citizens Union Senior Golf Classic −7 (67-68=135) Playoff   Orville Moody,   Dan Sikes,
  Walt Zembriski
7 Aug 3, 1986 Merrill Lynch/Golf Digest Commemorative (2) −11 (67-64-68=199) 2 strokes   Chi-Chi Rodríguez
8 Nov 20, 1988 Gus Machado Senior Classic −11 (67-70-65=202) 5 strokes   Al Geiberger

Senior PGA Tour playoff record (3–0)

No. Year Tournament Opponent(s) Result
1 1985 Merrill Lynch/Golf Digest Commemorative Pro-Am   Peter Thomson Won with eagle on first extra hole
2 1985 Digital Seniors Classic   Jerry Barber,   Don January Elder won with birdie on first extra hole
3 1985 Citizens Union Senior Golf Classic   Orville Moody,   Dan Sikes,
  Walt Zembriski
Elder won with birdie on third extra hole
Moody eliminated by birdie on second hole

Japan Senior wins (2)Edit

  • 1984 Coca-Cola Grandslam Championship
  • 1986 Coca-Cola Grandslam Championship

Results in major championshipsEdit

Tournament 1966 1967 1968 1969
Masters Tournament
U.S. Open T57 CUT CUT 67
The Open Championship
PGA Championship CUT
Tournament 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
Masters Tournament CUT T19 T42 T17
U.S. Open CUT T29 T45 CUT T35 CUT T30 T11
The Open Championship T36
PGA Championship CUT T24 T24 T11 T15 CUT T42 T35
Tournament 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984
Masters Tournament CUT CUT
U.S. Open CUT T33
The Open Championship
PGA Championship T26 T49 T80 CUT
  Did not play

CUT = missed the half-way cut
"T" indicates a tie for a place


Tournament Wins 2nd 3rd Top-5 Top-10 Top-25 Events Cuts made
Masters Tournament 0 0 0 0 0 2 6 3
U.S. Open 0 0 0 0 0 1 14 8
The Open Championship 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
PGA Championship 0 0 0 0 0 4 13 9
Totals 0 0 0 0 0 7 34 21
  • Most consecutive cuts made – 7 (1978 Masters – 1979 PGA)
  • Longest streak of top-10s – 0

U.S. national team appearancesEdit


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ McDaniel, Pete (April 2000). "The trailblazer – Twenty-five years ago, Lee Elder became the first black golfer in the Masters". Golf Digest. Archived from the original on February 7, 2008. Retrieved March 3, 2009.
  2. ^ "The Courage of Lee Elder". Sports Illustrated. April 7, 2008. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  3. ^ "The man who defied death threats to play at the Masters". BBC News. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
  4. ^ "Lee Elder: First black golfer to compete in the Masters returns for honorary start". BBC Sport. 8 April 2021. Retrieved 9 April 2021.

External linksEdit