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How African American Elder has inspired Woods at the Masters

GOLF By Vincent Wangombe | April 9th 2021
Aug 5, 2020; San Francisco, California, USA; Tiger Woods smiles on the 10th tee box during a practice round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at TPC Harding Park. [Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports]

This week the Masters returns to its traditional April time slot after an unprecedented November staging as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

As all the top golfers in the world will be seeking to get the coveted green jacket in their wardrobe, there will be one owner of a few green jackets who will be watching from his home; Tiger Woods.

As Woods was walking to the recorders to sign his score card for his first win at the 1997 Masters at the age of 21, he looked over to the spectators… my mistake, ‘The Patrons’, as they are known at the Masters… he saw Lee Elder and went over to him and embraced him.

“Congratulations Champ!” said Elder to Woods. Woods had been inspired by Elders as he was preparing to play in the Masters.

In 1975, a time when it was still okay to refer to people of African descent in America as “Negros”, Elder was the first to break the race barrier. Before he went on play at the revered Augusta National golf course, where African Americans only served as caddies, Elder was nervous after receiving several death threats.

There were some Americans of European descent who did not think that it was okay for other races to play golf at Augusta National.

Not so, the Patrons at The Masters, they did not have any problem with an African American playing at the Masters. Elder received a good reception right from the first tee and went on to play without any incidence. They cheered him on as he played in the tournament. He went on to play the Masters a few more times before he retired from the game.

At this year’s Masters, Elder is back playing a very important role; he will be joining other legends, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as an Honorary Starter. He will be calling out the names of the players before they tee off, a role that has traditionally been a reserve of respectable members of the Masters tradition.

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If there is one thing that the Masters can be described as, it is steeped in traditions. Starting from things like the Champions dinner on Tuesday where past champions are hosted by the reigning champion. This past Tuesday was the turn of Dustin Johnson to play host after his win in November last year.

Despite being seen as part of the racially divided past of American history, the Masters has always been one of the most attractive and important golf events in the world. It is not surprising that some of the golfers who will be playing at the Masters this week will not be interested in representing their countries at the Olympics.

To them, the green jacket is more valuable than a gold medal at the Olympics. This is the strong branding and allure of the Masters.


- Wang’ombe is the General Manager of Kenya Open Golf Limited and Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Golf Union.

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