AUGUST, Ga. – Lee Elder joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player just before dawn on Thursday at Augusta National to start 85th Masters with a historic ceremony.
Elder, 86, was the first black player to take part in the Masters in 1975, and was added to the top three this year along with Nicklaus and Player. Although he failed to hit a traditional shot due to health problems, the four-time winner of the PGA tour enjoyed what he called an “emotional experience.”
“For me, my heart is very soft this morning, not hard soft, soft because of the wonderful things I’ve encountered since I arrived here on Monday and I could see some of the great friends I’ve made over the years, especially like these two gentlemen [Nicklaus and Player] who are here, ”the old man said.
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Former Masters champions Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson were the first to watch the ceremonial start as was Cameron Champ, one of four Tour members with a black heritage.
Nicklaus won the historic Masters in 1975 and was asked what he remembers after Elder’s appearance at the tournament.
“I was a little taken aback when it was announced that the Black player didn’t play because Lee certainly played well enough, and before him he had Teddy Rhodes, and before him Charlie Sifford and colleagues who could play and were invited to the Masters,” Nicklaus said. “I thought it should have been a long time ago when he was finally called.”
When tournament officials announced that Elder would join the grand start, they also announced a plan to create two scholarships for players on the men’s golf team at Paine [Ga.] College, a historic black college, in Elder’s name.