Lee Elder, First African American To Play in The Masters, Dies at 87

by John Jamison
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Lee Elder, the first African American golfer to play in the Masters, has died at the age of 87. The cause of death is still unknown.

The news came via close friend and fellow golfer Renee Powell’s Facebook post on Monday morning.

“Overnight, I was very saddened to hear of the death of my good friend Lee Elder. Lee had called me last week about doing a project together this summer,” she wrote in the post, per The Sun.

In 1974, Lee Elder won the Monsanto Open, earning him an invitation to the storied major tournament. Elder didn’t make the cut at the 1975 Masters. But he set the stage for integration at the highest levels of golf. Since Lee Elder, five African American golfers have competed at the Masters. Tiger Woods was the first to win the tournament in 1997.

Paine College, an HBCU in Augusta, watched proudly as Lee Elder teed off at the 1975 Masters. In 2021, the school honored him with an honorary doctorate. Not only because of what he did all those years ago but because he remained a champion for getting more representation in the sport in recent years.

“The young Black people that are trying to get to those heights, they don’t have it right now because they don’t have the financial backing that will help them get to that height. So, I hope that more of the corporate world will look at them and take the step to make sure that they will help them get to that point because that’s what we need,” Elder said ahead of the 2021 Masters.

Lee Elder Served as Honorary Starter Alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player at the 2021 Masters

Renee Powell looked on as her friend took his honorary swing at the 2021 Masters.

“This year, I was proudly standing next to the first tee at Augusta National when Lee was given Honorary Starter status alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to open the Masters,” Powell continued in her post. “Thank goodness, Lee was finally recognized there! Please keep his wife, Sharon, in your prayers.”

Powell, 75, was also a professional golfer in her day. She was only the second African American woman ever to compete on the LPGA tour. She understood the significance of the moment. You can watch Lee Elder’s recognition at the 2021 tournament below.