Sifford takes spot among golf's greats

At a White House reception on Monday, Charlie Sifford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, just the third golfer to receive it and the 25th sports figure overall since the inception of the award in 1963.

Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who were recipients of the honor in 2004 and 2005, respectively, were largely responsible for planting the seeds in the 1960s for the gargantuan success of the present-day PGA Tour.

Yet it was Sifford, in these same years, who unwittingly became the moral conscience of the game in his fight to desegregate the PGA Tour, which he did in 1961 after the Caucasian-only clause was struck from PGA of America's constitution.

It was fitting that on Monday, President Barack Obama honored the three slain civil rights workers -- James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner -- posthumously in the ceremony.

Three years after Sifford had become the first black player to earn a tour card, the three men were brutally murdered in 1964 while trying to register black people to vote in Neshoba County, Mississippi.

Sifford, now 92, is a survivor of that seminal moment in American history for black people to obtain full equality within mainstream society.

The awards ceremony, held in the White House's East room where President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the '65 Voting Rights Act, was a reminder of the how far the country and the game of golf have come since the social turbulence of the 1960s.

There was a black president, born the same year as the Caucasian-only clause fell, honoring a man who had helped clear the way for him to make this monumental ascent in national politics.

On Monday, the president, quoting Sifford said, "I wasn't just trying to do it for me. I was trying to do it for the world."

So perhaps if there is a figurative Mount Rushmore of golf from the 1960s, when television was revolutionizing sports, it ought to include Sifford along with Palmer, Nicklaus and Gary Player.

For at a time when the nation was in the midst of a second Civil War, Charlie Sifford was a man of his times, ready to ensure the future of the game and the nation for generations to come.