Charlie Sifford did not set out to be a trailblazer.
Armed with an iron constitution and a profound love for the game of golf, the former caddie persevered through the vilest of human cruelty.
Charlie Sifford broke the color barrier in golf, becoming the first African-American to play on tour (and the first to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame).
Sifford will turn 90 years old this June. In human years, his has lived to a ripe, old age, but in the span of human evolution, it is frightening to realize that this man was middle aged before the professional game was forced to stop discrimination based upon the color of a man’s skin, the “Caucasian Only” rule. Could we have been so shortsighted and ignorant such a short time ago?
When I last saw Mr. Sifford, he shuffled and crouched like a man of his vintage. Down into the chair he sat with a hard landing, it being quite clear rising from it again would take an equal force of energy. My first instinct was simply to study the man. Making amends for the impact of the last half-century upon his physical form, in my mind, I tried to see him at almost 40 years old finally able to compete on tour, already a cigar-chomping veteran of golf’s dusty (and sometimes shady) world of second tier tours, where dreams are bought, sold and crushed like a smoldering ember in a spotty Bahia grass rough. Remarkably, I was unimpressed. This man did not possess massive physical prowess or Popeye-like forearms. Where were the muscles that could bend the course of fate itself or the eyes that could stare down hatred in consummate? Where was his thick skin?
Before me, against the measure of giants, sat a common man, just like me.
He did not set out to change the game of golf (and in many ways, the world at large), but his courageous path did just that. Funny, isn’t it, how the most brave do not seem to set out to forge a path, but after looking back upon the path they tread through valleys of pain, sacrifice and cruelty, they left a discernable road to usher in those behind them. Often times, a path for those to taste the fruits of a labor that belonged to those that preceded them.
Charlie Sifford did not beat hatred and ignorance, it’s still lingers in putrid puddles, he just outlasted it with perseverance, passion and hope. I asked Mr. Sifford that with all that he’s been through is there anything in his life he would go back and change. There was a long pause before he answered, “…No…no…I won’t change anything”. Trailblazer’s are that way.
Jan. 16, 2012: Matt revisits with the legendary Charlie Sifford to hear how he overcame racial injustice to pursue the game he loves and along the way, change the sport.