Lee Elder, the first Black golfer to compete in the Masters, died on Sunday morning, the PGA Tour announced. He was 87 years old. The cause of death was not revealed, but the news comes seven months after he was honored at this year's Masters in April, where he was named an honorary starter alongside Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, as mentioned by ESPN.
"My heart is very soft this morning, not heavy soft, soft because of the wonderful things that I have encountered since arriving here on Monday and being able to see some of the great friends that I have made over the past years, especially like these two gentlemen that are here," Elder said at the time of Nicklaus and Player. "We have competed against each other, and we have certainly enjoyed a lot of pleasant moments. I just want to say thank you so very much to have me here. It's a great honor, and I cherish it very much, and I will always cherish it, and I want to thank the chairman for extending me this great privilege."
In his career, Elder played in 448 PGA Tour events and won four of them. He also earned another eight victories on PGA Tour champions. He made his first appearance at the Masters in 1975 and went on to play in the tournament at Augusta National five more times, along with competing in 34 major championships and recording seven top-25 finishes. His wins on the tour included the 1974 Monsanto Open (which earned him entry to the 1975 Masters), 1976 Houston Open, 1978 Greater Milwaukee Open and 1978 American Express Westchester Classic.
"Lee Elder was a pioneer, and in so many ways," Nicklaus said. "Yes, he was the first Black player to compete in the Masters Tournament, but that simply underlined the hard work Lee put in to further the cause of everyone who has a dream to play on the PGA TOUR and perhaps thinks there were too many barriers before them. It was wonderful that the Masters Tournament and Augusta National paid a well-deserved tribute to Lee by inviting him to be an Honorary Starter on this last Masters. That morning, you could see the joy in Lee's face, and Gary Player and I were honored to enjoy that moment with him. That memory will remain special for so many, including me, for many years to come."
When Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997, he mentioned Elder and Chalie Sifford — the first Black golfer to compete on the PGA Tour — for making it possible for him to achieve his goals. "I wasn't the pioneer. Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder and Teddy Rhodes paved the way," Woods said at the time. "I was thinking about them and what they've done for me as I was coming up the 18th fairway. I said a little prayer and a thanks to those guys. They are the ones who did it for me."