Charlie Sifford was the first African-American to win a major professional golf tournament.
Known as the Jackie Robinson of golf, Charlie Sifford is said to have paved the way for future black golfers. Not only did the former pro golfer break racial barriers by becoming the first African-American to play in the PGA Tour, but he was also the first Black player to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Sifford's interest in golf began in the 1930s when he worked as a caddie in Charlotte, North Carolina, during his teens. Black players were not allowed to join North Carolina's clubs, so in order to be allowed on the green, Sifford moved to Philadelphia.
As a golf coach, Sifford trained singer Billy Eckstine, but also focused on his own skills. He nabbed the Negro National Open title six times in the 1950s. With his eye on the whites-only PGA, Sifford spoke with other prominent Black athletes for encouragement including boxers "Sugar" Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, and, of course, baseball icon Jackie Robinson.
"He asked me if I was a quitter," Sifford recalled about Jackie Robinson's advice. "He said, 'OK, if you're not a quitter, go ahead and take the challenge. If you're a quitter, there's going to be a lot of obstacles you're going to have to go through to be successful in what you're trying to do.' I made up my mind I was going to do it. I just did it. Everything worked out perfect, I think."
In 1957, he won the Long Beach Open, which is co-sponsored by the PGA, and four years later gained membership to the PGA Tour, the first Black athlete to do so. In 1967, Sifford broke the barrier again by winning the fully PGA-sponsored Greater Hartford Open and then the 1969 Los Angeles open.
Sifford would go on to win 422 PGA tournaments, nearly $350,000 in prize money, and the admiration of white and future Black golf players in the game. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004.
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(Photo: PGA TOUR Archive/WireImage)