Charlie Sifford (1st African American to play PGA tour)

1922 - 2015

Charles Luther Sifford (June 2, 1922 – February 3, 2015) was a professional golfer who was the first African American to play on the PGA Tour. He won the Greater Hartford Open in 1967 and the Los Angeles Open in 1969. He also won the United Golf Association's National Negro Open six times, and the PGA Seniors' Championship in 1975.

For his contributions to golf, Sifford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004. He was awarded the Old Tom Morris Award in 2007, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, and an honorary doctorate from the University of St AndrewsLee Trevino referred to Sifford as the "Jackie Robinson" of golf, and Tiger Woods acknowledged that Sifford paved the way for his career.

Sifford was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1922.[2] He began work as a caddy at the age of thirteen.[3] He moved to Philadelphia when he was 17 years old, where he played against local black golfers.[4]

Sifford began golfing professionally in 1948.[5] He competed in the golf tournaments that black golfers organized for themselves as they were excluded from the Professional Golfers' Association of America (PGA). Sifford won the United Golf Association's National Negro Open six times,[6] including consecutive wins from 1952 through 1956.[5] Sifford later worked as a valet and golf instructor to the singer Billy Eckstine, who also financially supported his career when he was unable to find sponsorship.[7]

Sifford first attempted to qualify for a PGA Tour event at the 1952 Phoenix Open, using an invitation obtained by former World heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis. Sifford was subjected to threats and racial abuse there and at other tournaments.[8]

In 1957, Sifford won the Long Beach Open, which was not an official PGA Tour event, but was co-sponsored by the PGA and had some well-known white players in the field.[9] Sifford competed in the U. S. Open in 1959 for the first time, and tied for 32nd place.[3] He became a member of the Tour in 1961, thus becoming the first African-American to join the PGA Tour.[2] He went on to win two official money events, the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 Los Angeles Open,[10] and finished in the top 60 in overall winnings in his first nine years as a member of the PGA Tour.[11] He also won the 1963 Puerto Rico Open and at the 1971 Sea Pines. He tied for 21st place at the 1972 U.S. Open, his best finish in a major tournament.[3] He competed in the PGA Seniors' Championship, then the leading tournament for golfers over fifty, winning the event in 1975.[8]

Sifford's wife, Rose, died in 1998. They had two sons, Charles Jr. and Craig.[2]

Sifford, a Brecksville, Ohio resident, was hospitalized for a stroke one month prior to his death in Cleveland, Ohio.[12] He died on February 3, 2015 following that stroke at the age of 92.[12]

In July 2015, Craig Sifford and his wife, Sandra, were indicted and accused of spending more than a million dollars of Charlie Sifford's money. A Cuyahoga County grand jury indicted them with three counts of theft, one count of money laundering, and one count of unauthorized use of property. Sandra Sifford is also facing an additional charge of receiving stolen property.[13]

Lee Trevino said of Sifford, "You have to put him in the Jackie Robinson category".[2] Tiger Woods referred to Sifford as "the Grandpa I never had," and that, without Sifford, "I probably wouldn't be here. My dad would have never have picked up the game. Who knows if the clause would still exist or not? But he broke it down".[14]

In 2004, Sifford became the first African American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.[15] He chose Hall of Fame member South African Gary Player to present him for induction. On June 22, 2006, he received an honorary degree from the University of St Andrews as a Doctor of Laws.[16] He also received the 2007 Old Tom Morris Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), the GCSAA's highest honor.[17]

In 2009, the Northern Trust Open created an exemption for a player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf; it is named in honor of Sifford and is referred to as the Charlie Sifford Exemption.[18]

In 2011, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation changed the name of Revolution Park Golf Course to Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park.[19]

President Barack Obama awarded him the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom.[2][20]