For the first time in the history of the Masters Tournament, an African-American will be among the Masters honorary starters who begin the festivities at Augusta National Golf Club.
Starting in 2021, Lee Elder, who became the first African-American golfer to compete in the Masters Tournament in 1975, will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in the Thursday morning ceremonial tee shots that are hit before the tournament commences.
Elder made his Masters debut at the age of 40, after the Masters had been played 38 times without an African-American contestant.
“Playing in the 39th Masters, Lee delivered a simple-but-strong message that resonated throughout the world. That message was unequivocal: I belong,” said Masters chairman Fred Ridley on Monday in announcing the move.
Ridley continued, “The courage and commitment of Lee Elder and other trailblazing players like him inspired men and women of color to pursue their rightful opportunity to compete and follow their dreams.”
Elder missed the cut that week, and he didn’t compete in the 1976 tournament. However, Elder competed in the tournament for five consecutive years after that, notching a best finish of T-19 in 1977.
The tradition of the Masters honorary starter began formally in 1963 when Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod, who had informally been starting things since 1954, took on the role. Hutchison and McLeod had won the first two Senior PGA Championships, both played at Augusta National, in 1937 and 1938, respectively. Elder will be the 10th person to serve as honorary starter during the Masters Tournament.
Five-time Masters winner Tiger Woods, who considers Elder like family, tweeted in approval of the move.
We all belong. Such wonderful news to hear from Augusta National in celebration of Lee Elder. https://t.co/OAIKQGvmt6
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) November 9, 2020
For decades, Augusta National required players to use the club’s caddies in the tournament, all of which were African-American. Augusta National invited its first African-American member in 1990.
In addition, Augusta National announced it will fully fund a new women’s golf program at Paine College, a Historically Black College/University in Augusta, Ga. The club will also provide scholarships in Elder’s honor to the men’s and women’s golf teams.