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Trailblazing golfer Charlie Sifford honored at Memorial Tournament

Pro golfer Charlie Sifford is pictured, Feb. 27, 1968.
Dave Pickoff
Pro golfer Charlie Sifford is pictured, Feb. 27, 1968.

Trailblazing golf professional Charlie Sifford would have turned 100 years old Thursday. He overcame racism and prejudice to help pave the way for other African Americans to play on the PGA Tour. The Memorial Tournament honored Sifford this week posthumously for his significant contributions.

“It means a great deal to myself and the family because it finally shows that my father is starting to get some of the recognition that we felt he should have had many years ago. I'm sure he's looking down on it and saying 'thank you, it's about time,'" said his son, Charlie Sifford Jr. who spoke of his father during an acceptance speech.

Charlie Sifford Sr. became the first black golfer to earn his PGA card in 1961. He navigated a lot more than sand traps and ponds on the course during those days. Taunts, racial slurs, segregation and even death threats were common. In many cases, he could not eat in dining halls and restaurants with fellow white golfers. He often ate his meals in the locker room where on some occasions, some white golfers joined him. Later in life, he wrote a book aptly named Just Let Me Play. His son, Charlie Sifford Jr.- also a golfer, calls his dad his hero.

“He proved that he could win on tour against not only other African Americans but all the great white players as well,“ said Sifford Jr.

Sifford Jr. said his father did share some regret about the process it took to finally get him on the PGA tour.

“He was disappointed that he had to go to those extents, as far as filing a lawsuit [one that eventually ended the tour's Caucasian only clause]. He felt that everyone should be treated equally and have equal opportunity to play the game," said Sifford Jr.

Sifford won twice on the PGA tour, and in 2004 he became the first black golfer admitted to the World Golf Hall of Fame. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2014 from former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Charlie Sifford Sr. died on February 3, 2015.

Williams was a reporter for WOSU. Natasha is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and has more than 20 years of television news and radio experience.