Altvater: Charles Sifford to receive Presidential Medal of FreedomWritten by Fred Altvater | | BackNine@toledofreepress.com
Charles Sifford will be the third golfer to ever receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom when President Barack Obama drapes it around his neck in a ceremony Nov. 24 in Wasington D.C.
The only other professional golfers to be honored with this prestigious award were Arnold Palmer in 2004 and Jack Nicklaus in 2005.
Sifford could not have imagined receiving the nation’s highest civilian honor as a young black man trying to eke out a living as a professional golfer.
Born in 1922, he was raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, and his love affair with golf began at an early age. Like many successful players, he grew up learning golf as a caddy and was a scratch golfer by the age of 13.
Golf is a difficult game to master and being a young black man in the “Jim Crow” South made it even more challenging. He received death threats and was constantly harassed, even after public integration.
In the early days, African-Americans were banned from PGA of America events and Sifford played in tournaments organized for black players only. He first attempted to qualify for a PGA of America tournament at the 1952 Phoenix Open, when former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis obtained an invitation for Sifford to compete.
He was subject to threats of physical violence and racial abuse throughout his career and sought advice and counsel from Jackie Robinson, who had broken major league baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
He became a PGA member in 1961 and won two official PGA tournaments in his career, the 1967 Greater Hartford Invitational and the 1969 LA Open. He also won the 1957 Long Beach Open, which was co-sponsored by the PGA, but is considered an unofficial win.
Sifford won the 1975 Senior PGA Championship at the age of 53, when it was the only official tournament for professionals over the age of 50, prior to the advent of the Champions Tour.
He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004 and chose Gary Player to present him. St. Andrews University bestowed him with an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree in 2006 and in 2007 the GCSAA recognized him with their highest honor the Old Tom Morris Award.
Tiger Woods has often referred to the sacrifices made by Sifford and the early pioneers that were forced to suffer the indignities of racial abuse to allow him the freedom of competing on the PGA Tour today.
Charles Sifford opened the door for African American golfers to get through the country club gate and earn a living on the golf course.
Fred Altvater offers golf tips and videos at www.toledoohiogolflessons.com. Email him at BackNine@toledofree press.com or follow him on Twitter @tolohgolfr.