Read the incredible story of Dr. Charles Sifford.
Via Charlotte Public Golf

Against All Odds: The Story of Dr. Charles Sifford

Nathan Baugh, Matt Trombley
Articles

A man who won 2 PGA Tour events changed golf forever. Tiger Woods named his son after him and calls him “the Grandpa I never had.” This is the incredible story of Dr. Charles Sifford.

Born in 1922 in Charlotte, NC, a young Black boy in the south had no obvious path into golf. So Charlie made his own.

At 13, he got a job caddying at a local course making 60 cents per day.

  • “50 cents went to my mom and I kept the other 10 to buy stogies.”

This became his signature look:

The signature look of Charlie.
The signature look of Charlie.

With the club closed Mondays, Charlie convinced the owners to let him use the course that day. Other days, he’d sneak onto the course before it opened to practice even more. Within a year, 13 year old Charlie Sifford became a scratch golfer.

A young Charles Sifford on the golf course.
A young Charles Sifford on the golf course.

At 17, Charlie moved to Philly to compete against other Black golfers - but World War 2 got in the way. Charlie served in the Pacific, including the horrifying Battle of Okinawa. He was always quiet about the War and his role.

Returning to the US, Charlie got back into golf.

  • “I always did want to be a pro. But the pro tour wasn’t open to African-Americans then.”

Instead of the PGA, Charlie joined the United Golf Association tour where he dominated.

Charlie won the Negro National Open an astonishing five straight times from 1952-1956. With the success, the itch to qualify for the PGA Tour came back.

Dr. Sifford celebrates his shot on the green.
Dr. Sifford celebrates his shot on the green.

Using an invitation from world heavyweight champ Joe Louis, Charlie entered the PGA’s 1952 Phoenix Open. There and at other PGA events, he was threatened and racially abused. In 1957, he broke through, winning the Long Beach Open - an event that was co-sponsored by the PGA.

Because of efforts from Charlie, Lee Elder, and Joe Louis, the PGA dropped its “Caucasian Only” ban in 1961. 14 years after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB’s color barrier, Charlie became the first Black member of the PGA Tour.

Despite joining the PGA at the age of 40, Charlie won 2 tournaments.

  • 1967 Greater Hartford Open
  • 1969 LA Open

If he’d been allowed in earlier, my guess is that number is much higher than 2.

In later life, Charlie received an amazing list of honors:

  • 1st Black man inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame
  • Honorary Doctorate from the University of St Andrews
  • The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award
Charles Sifford receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Charles Sifford receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Dr. Charles Sifford passed away in 2015 at the age of 92. Here’s how legends remember him:

  • “We honor a man for the course he chose in life.” - Gary Player
  • “One of the most courageous men ever to play this sport.” - Tiger Woods

5 minutes from downtown Charlotte, the Dr. Charles Sifford Memorial Course is amongst the city’s most popular. Almost 100 years since his birth, a course that would not let Charlie play now bears his name.

The Dr. Charles Sifford Memorial Course honors the late Charlie.
The Dr. Charles Sifford Memorial Course honors the late Charlie. 
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