ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Charlie Sifford only wanted a chance
Despite a warning from Jackie Robinson that he would face taunts
and threats, Sifford fought the PGA Tour over its Caucasian-only
clause until he became its first black member in 1960. Full
privileges didn't come for another five years. He couldn't stay in
hotels at some of the tournaments he played.
Sifford measured success by surviving a hostile environment that
infiltrated a genteel game.
So imagine how it must feel to join one of the most exclusive
clubs in golf, a membership that includes only the best who ever
played -- Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold
Listen to him when he answers his phone.
"Charlie Sifford, Hall of Famer," he says in a voice finally
full of optimism.
An iron-willed man who spent his career fighting for inclusion,
Sifford will break down another barrier Monday night when he
becomes the first black member inducted into the World Golf Hall of
His credentials include only two PGA Tour victories, the 1967
Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 Los Angeles Open. He was never
invited to the Masters, a wound that only healed when Tiger Woods
won the green jacket in a record-setting performance in 1997.
But many believe Sifford's election through the Lifetime
Achievement category was overdue.
"Charlie won tournaments, but more important, he broke a
barrier," Nicklaus said. "I think what Charlie Sifford has
brought to this game has been monumental. To be inducted into the
Hall of Fame ... I think it's about time."
Others to be inducted at the World Golf Village:
Tom Kite, whose 19 victories included the 1992 U.S. Open at
Pebble Beach. He finished in the top 20 on the PGA Tour money list
15 consecutive seasons and twice won the money title. Kite's most
productive year was 1989, when he won The Players Championship, the
Tour Championship and was voted PGA Tour player of the year.
Isao Aoki, with 73 victories worldwide and the only Japanese
player to win on six tours. He was the first Japanese player to win
on the PGA Tour, holing out for eagle on the 18th hole in the 1983
Marlene Streit, the first Canadian in the Hall of Fame. She
has won elite amateur titles the last six decades, and captured the
U.S. Senior Women's Amateur title last year at 69.
The induction ceremony will bring membership in the World Golf
Hall of Fame to 104.
Sifford, 82, still remembers the April afternoon when PGA Tour
commissioner Tim Finchem called to tell him he was in the Hall of
Fame, with instructions not to tell anyone until the official
"I couldn't tell anyone," Sifford said, "because I didn't
believe it myself."
Sifford's goals were modest by most standards. He wanted to win
on the PGA Tour, play in the three U.S. majors and get inducted
into the Hall of Fame.
The challenge was getting a chance.
Sifford dominated the all-black United Golfers Association,
winning five straight national titles. He longed to test his game
against the best, only to run into the same roadblock as Teddy
Rhodes and Bill Spiller before him -- the PGA of America had a
In his autobiography, "Just Let Me Play," Sifford tells of
meeting Robinson in California, about the time Robinson was trying
to break the color barrier in baseball.
"He asked me if I was a quitter," Sifford said. "I told him
no. He said, 'If you're not a quitter, you're probably going to
experience some things that will make you want to quit."'
It didn't take long for Sifford to find out. During the 1952
Phoenix Open, one of the few events blacks could play, Sifford
found human feces in the cup when he got to the first green. Even
more bothersome was his first trip home to North Carolina after he
had his PGA Tour card.
Sifford received death threats over the phone at the '61 Greater
Greensboro Open. He heard racial slurs as he walked the fairways of
Sedgefield Country Club. And he still managed to finish fourth.
"I felt a larger victory," Sifford wrote. "I had come through
my first southern tournament with the worst kind of social pressure
and discrimination around me, and I hadn't cracked. I hadn't
Sifford's courage paved the way for other blacks to play on the
PGA Tour -- Pete Brown, the first black to win at the 1964 Waco
Open; Lee Elder, the first black to play the Masters in 1975;
Calvin Peete, whose supreme accuracy off the tee sent him to 12
victories, including The Players Championship.
Brown now works as the head pro at Madden Golf Club, a public
course in Dayton, Ohio. He was thrilled to hear that Sifford, with
whom he traveled the tour in a car, was taking his place among the
greats in golf.
"That's better than Lee going to the Masters," Brown said.
"Not everybody makes the Hall of Fame. He worked awfully hard for
it under the circumstances. It took a lot of guts for him to go
through what he did."
Woods said he considers Sifford a grandfather figure, saving
every letter Sifford has written him since they first met when
Woods was in high school.
Sifford did not go to the '97 Masters; he has never set foot on
the hallowed grounds of Augusta National, still bitter over
qualifications that kept him out of the Masters despite victories
in Hartford and Los Angeles.
"If it wasn't for Charlie and players like Teddy Rhodes, Bill
Spiller and others, we wouldn't be here," Woods said. "I
certainly wouldn't probably have been introduced to the game of
golf because my dad wouldn't have played. Without Charlie's
diligence and dedication ... we owe everything to him and to others
Woods' father considers Sifford one of his sports heroes, along
with Jim Brown, Hank Aaron and Joe Louis.
"He took the punishment, the ridicule and he still
persevered," Earl Woods said. "For that, he should always be
remembered. Because nobody else did it but him. He was the first
That will be Sifford's legacy -- the first black on the PGA Tour.
And now, the first black in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Sifford has had six months to prepare a speech for the induction
ceremony and said he will speak from the heart. He remembers the
closed doors, the racial slurs, the faces in the gallery who wanted
him to fail.
"There is always a way to forgive," Sifford said. "But I
cannot forget what I went through to get to the Hall of Fame. I
know I had some bad days, some tough days.
"But it looks like everything worked out fine."