Golf: PGA barrier-breaker Charlie Sifford dies

Golf: PGA barrier-breaker Charlie Sifford dies
US President Barack Obama presents a Presidential Medal of Freedom to golfer Charles Sifford (front L).

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, United States - Charlie Sifford, the first African-American golfer on the US PGA Tour and in the World Golf Hall of Fame, has died aged 92, tour officials announced Wednesday.

Sifford, a pioneer in breaking the colour barrier, was a long-time friend and mentor to Tiger Woods, the 14-time major champion who considered him a family member and paid tribute to him on Twitter.

"Terrible loss for golf and me personally," Woods wrote. "My grandfather is gone and we all lost a brave, decent and honourable man. I'll miss u Charlie."

Sifford, who died Tuesday, was also praised by US President Barack Obama, who last November presented Sifford with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award whose only pro golf recipients had been Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

"Michelle and I offer our condolences on the passing of golf legend Charlie Sifford," Obama said in a statement.

"Charlie was the first African-American to earn a PGA tour card - often facing indignity and injustice even as he faced the competition. Though his best golf was already behind him, he proved that he belonged, winning twice on tour and blazing a trail for future generations of athletes in America.

"I was honoured to award Charlie the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year for altering the course of the sport and the country he loved. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his friends, and his fans."

Sifford, who became a pro golfer after serving in the US Army in World War II, serving in the bloody battle for Okinawa, became the first black golfer on the US PGA Tour in 1960 and won two tour events, the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and 1969 Los Angeles Open. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.

"Charlie Sifford was a pioneer in our sport, breaking down barriers and paving the way for everyone able to compete at the highest level to succeed," US PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.

"Charlie's induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame put an exclamation point on a remarkable career, where he proved to be a tenacious competitor and an outstanding player. We truly mourn his passing."

Nicklaus, who won a record 18 major titles, once said of Sifford, "Charlie won tournaments, but more importantly, he broke a barrier. What Charlie Sifford brought to this game has been monumental."

Sifford first picked up a golf club aged 12 as a caddie in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a teenager, Sifford showed talent and moved to live with his uncle in Philadelphia and hone his skills before the war intervened.

He fought racial insults and death threats during his career but began his career a year before Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947.

Actor Samuel L. Jackson tweeted: "Mr Charlie Sifford died tonite, the greatest African American Golfer most of you never heard of. RIP, Sir."

"The world of golf has lost a faithful ambassador," PGA of America president Derek Sprague said.

"His love of golf, despite many barriers in his path, strengthened him as he became a beacon for diversity in our game. By his courage, Dr. Sifford inspired others to follow their dreams."

 

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