A Lee Elder very excited received a warm welcome on the tee of one of the Augusta National when he joined Jack nicklaus and Gary Player as a new ‘honorary starter’ for him Masters 2021 this Thursday. The sun had barely risen over the clubhouse when Elder, from 86 years, the first black golfer to compete in the Masters in 1975, was taken to the first tee in a buggy while a new edition dawned, the 85, of the first ‘major’ of the calendar.
“I think it was one of the most emotional experiences I have ever witnessed or participated in,” Elder said. “It is definitely something that I will remember for the rest of my life because I have loved coming to Augusta National and playing here. My heart is very soft this morning, not heavy, soft, soft because of the wonderful things that I have encountered since I arrived here on Monday.
Elder has limited mobility and did not tee off. Shortly after Elder, the nine-time major winner, Gary Player, as agile as ever at 85, left the clubhouse and hugged Nicklaus’ wife, Barbara. He then posed on the tee with Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion and 18-time majors winner, who wore a yellow jersey to protect himself from the mild chill it was in at this time of the morning.
Several hundred people were present, smaller than usual due to the limited number of viewers allowed this year due to covid-19. “Today, Lee Elder will inspire us and make history,” said the Augusta National President Fred Ridley. “Lee, I am privileged to say, ‘You have the honors,'” he added.
The 1971 trip to South Africa …
Elder cautiously rose from the chair he was sitting in and thanked the warm applause, before Ridley introduced the three-time Masters winner Player, who started the first fairway with a superb drive that covered some 200 meters. The South African, one of the five players who have achieved the Grand Slam (reuniting the four ‘majors’ of the modern era), raised a leg in joy to celebrate his blow.
Nicklaus, 81 and not as agile as Player, also hit the fairway, although his swing was not as smooth and his stroke was about 40 meters shorter than Player’s. With that, the 85th Masters was officially underway.
Player later recalled the story of the first time Elder visited South Africa in 1971, during the apartheid era in the country. Player said he had to make a personal request to the then Prime Minister John Vorster so Elder could play. “It’s pretty sad to think that in those days… I had to ask permission for Lee Elder to come play for our PGA. It’s pretty sad, ”Player said. “Lee Elder came, and he was put under enormous pressure from the people of this country, mainly blacks, understandably, and they called me a traitor.”