Masters 2019: Lee Elder was the first African-American to play the Masters. Now, he's breaking another barrier.

Published: Apr. 9, 2019 at 7:01 PM EDT
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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Forty-four years after Lee Elder became the first African-American man to play in the Masters, he's breaking another barrier.

This summer, Lee Elder will become the first African-American man to receive the US Golf Association's highest honor.

News 12 spoke to him today about what the Bob Jones Award means to him.

It seems Lee Elder's destiny to play in the Masters was decided long before he even picked up a golf club.

“The year the Masters was created was the year that I was born, so that meant it was extra special to me,” said Elder.

The year he first played was 1975 and many critics had a lot to say about a black man stepping on Augusta's famous course. He played despite death threats, paving the way for a diverse field of players to follow.

“I never thought in my mind that I would have the success that I have had and be able to accomplish the things I have accomplished,” said Elder.

Now, soaking in the Masters from the gallery, watching the next generation make history of their own gives Lee Elder a huge sense of satisfaction.

“Things Tiger has been able to achieve, the following he has acquired, all the people who have really turned to the game because of him...I'd like to think I have a small hand in helping him get to that plateau,” said Elder.

It's pretty obvious he played more than just a 'small hand' in making that happen, but it's his humility and grace that draw so many people to Lee Elder.

Those qualities are part of the reason the USGA chose him to receive the Bob Jones award this summer, their highest honor.

“When I thought about it I started shedding a tear or two. This was such a great honor,” said Elder.

He's accomplished a lot in his career: four PGA tour wins, a Ryder Cup victory, a trailblazer, to say the least, but this award is something he never dreamed of.

“This award would probably be the number one in all of the things that I have been able to accomplish,” said Elder.

An incredible story for an orphan who got his start as a caddy, and changed the face of golf forever.