Masters Welcomes Lee Elder and Paine College
April 8, 2021
Augusta, GA - Up on the balcony of the Clubhouse stood a dozen or so white-jacketed members of the Augusta National waitstaff. A similar scene took place when Elder teed off in his first Masters all those years ago, when Club employees came out to witness the historic moment.
Following Elder's entrance at the first tee, Player and Nicklaus arrived. Once they had greeted their old friend, Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament Chairman Fred Riley began the ceremonies.
"Lee Elder was the first Black man to compete in the Masters, and in doing so, he blazed a trail that inspired the game of golf and future generations of players," Ridley said. "We are delighted today to have a number of Black golfers 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.
"Today, Lee Elder will inspire us and make history once more," Ridley continued. "Not with a drive but with his presence, strength and character. Lee, it is my privilege to say, ‘You have the honors.'"
Once those words were uttered, Elder rose from his chair and held his driver in the air, nodding in appreciation and smiling at the warm, embracing reception. His health was such that he was unable to hit a ceremonial tee shot. But that made no difference to the men and women gathered around the first tee.
Lee Elder was the first Black man to compete in the Masters, and in doing so, he blazed a trail that inspired the game of golf and future generations of players. Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament
Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson were among those applauding, each of them clad in his Green Jacket. Another pair of Masters champions, three-time winner Nick Faldo and Charles Coody were also there, as were British Open champions Greg Norman and Tom Lehman. Current Masters competitors Cameron Champ and Corey Connors took in the scene as well, making time to honor Elder even as their morning tee times loomed.
Also on hand were Jay Monahan, commissioner of the PGA Tour; and two leaders of the PGA of America, Seth Waugh, its CEO, and Jim Richerson, its president.
Celebrities also came from beyond the world of golf. Buffalo Bills quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said he rose "extra early" to see the Honorary Starters. Actor Chris Tucker was also in the gallery, wearing one of the 1975 hats.
"Lee Elder is like a father to me," Tucker said. "This was such a great, long experience for him in breaking down barriers. He definitely paved the way for a lot of people to get into golf. It's unbelievable all the accomplishments he has completed. I wouldn't have missed this."
Nor would Willie Adams, the golf coach at Paine College, a historically Black institution for which Augusta National has endowed two scholarships for members of men's and women's golf teams.
"This is a great experience, especially for people from Paine," said Adams, who was sitting by the first tee with two members of his team, Matthew Peavler and Braden Smith, all three of them dressed in purple, the school's color. "Honoring Lee Elder and his honoring us with his name on a pair of scholarships is fantastic. Augusta National is the pinnacle of golf, and this shows what can be accomplished."