Lee Elder: First black golfer to compete in the Masters returns for honorary start

Honorary starters Lee Elder (left) and Jack Nicklaus (right) of the US with South Africa's Gary Player (centre)
Lee Elder (left) with fellow honorary starters, six-time champion Jack Nicklaus (right) and three-time winner Gary Player (centre)

Lee Elder, the first black golfer to compete in the Masters, said playing a part in the ceremonial start to this year's event "far exceeds anything that has ever happened" to him in the sport.

The American, 86, made history when he played in 1975 - an appearance that saw him receive death threats.

On Wednesday he joined decorated former winners Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player for the ceremonial first tee shot.

"It's something I'll cherish the rest of my life," Elder said.

"It was one of the most emotional experiences I've ever been involved in.

"To earn an invitation to the Masters and stand at that first tee was my dream and to have it come true in 1975 remains one of the greatest highlights of my career and life.

"To be invited back to the first tee one more time to join Jack and Gary means the world to me."

Elder, who recorded a best finish of joint 17th in 1979 from six appearances, received the biggest ovation of the three retired players when he was introduced.

He was helped to his feet and held his driver but did not make a shot. Instead he stood and waved to the crowd around him.

"In 1975, the strongest memory as I recall was how nervous I was going to the first tee," Elder said.

"I had a wonderful round that day. Every tee and every green I walked on I got tremendous ovations."

Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said Elder "made history once more" at the Masters with his "presence, strength and character".

"[He] blazed a trail that will inspire the game of golf and future generations of players," Ridley said.

"We are delighted today to have with us a number of black golf professional who are proud members of the PGA of America. They were undoubtedly inspired by Lee Elder and his message that the game of golf belongs to everyone."

Three-time winner Player had the honour of the first tee shot and the South African, 60 years on since he became the first non-American to win the Masters, gave a trademark high-kick after bunting his drive down the middle.

Nicklaus, who won his record sixth Green Jacket 35 years ago this week, quipped "that was the hard part" after putting his tee peg in the ground and placing his ball on it. He too drove down the middle before all three players retired to the clubhouse.

Honorary starter Lee Elder
Elder received a superb ovation when in he was introduced
Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club Fred Ridley shakes hands with Lee Elder
Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club Fred Ridley shakes hands with Elder
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