Throughout Gary Player’s long career, he has had the opportunity to meet and play alongside other leading figures in the game of golf. One of those such figures was Charlie Sifford. Sifford was the first African-American to play on the PGA Tour. Sifford and Player played together in many events, including the 1962 U.S. Open.
Charlie Sifford began golfing professionally in 1948, competing in golf tournaments organized by black golfers for themselves before the PGA TOUR was open to them. Sifford won the United Golf Association’s National Negro Open six times.
Sifford joined the PGA TOUR in 1961. His career highlights include winning the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 Los Angeles Open. He also won the 1963 Puerto Rico Open and the 1975 PGA Seniors’ Championship.
Charlie Sifford has been referred to as the Jackie Robinson of golf and players today, including Tiger Woods, feel he paved the way for them to play professional golf. Several accolades have been given to Sifford over the years. In 2004 he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame and asked his friend Gary Player to present him at the induction ceremony. Player was honored to do so. Sifford was also awarded the Old Tom Morris Award in 2007 and given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 by President Barack Obama.
Sifford passed away in February 2015 at the age of 92. His achievements for the game of golf and greater society will go down in history and his legacy continues in many ways. The Los Angeles Open continues to offer the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption to a player each year who represents the advancement of diversity in golf. As for Gary Player, he remembers his friend fondly as “an inspiration, a super golfer, and a tremendous ambassador for the game of golf.”