Charles Sifford has passed away.
Sifford was golf’s Jackie Robinson—a civil rights pioneer who broke a sport’s color barrier. Sifford recently received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Sifford was the first African American golf pro to compete in an official PGA tournament following the 1961 repeal of the “Caucasian Only” membership clause. He also was the first African American to win a PGA sponsored event. Sifford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004, and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Law Degree by the University of St. Andrews in 2006.
Sifford was admitted to the PGA in 1960 after twenty years of working as a golf pro. In the interim, Sifford made his living playing in non-PGA sanctioned events, and giving lessons. In the 1950s, Sifford dominated the Negro National Open, winning six times.
In 1967, Sifford became the first African American to win a PGA Title. He won again in 1969.
Sifford is the third golfer to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, after Arnold Palmer (2004) and Jack Nicklaus (2005).
Born in 1922 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sifford worked as a caddie as a youth. He shot par for the first time at the age of thirteen.
During his career, Sifford garnered the support of other African American athletes, such as Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Don Newcombe and Jackie Robinson. Robinson warned Sifford of the obstacles he would face. Like Robinson, Sifford would suffer harassment and death threats.
Louis’ support is particularly notable. In 1952 on a sponsor’s exemption into the San Diego Open, Louis became the first African American to play in a PGA event. Louis also financially supported aspiring African American golfers including Sifford, Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes, Howard Wheeler, James Black, and Clyde Martin.