November 11, 2014
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- Charlie Sifford (left) and Arnold Palmer at the 2009 World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony. (Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Charlie Sifford, who broke golf's color barrier, is one of 19 people who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in ceremonies on Nov. 24.
President Barack Obama announced the 92-year-old Sifford's selection on Monday. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor that can go to a civilian in this country.
Sifford, who endured death threats and discrimination to play the game he loved, is a two-time PGA TOUR winner and also owns two victories on the Champions Tour. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004, the first African-American to receive that honor, and an Honorary Doctor of Law Degree by the University of St. Andrews in 2006.
“Dr. Charles Sifford is most deserving of this special honor,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. “He is the ultimate pioneer who endured untold hardships with tremendous dignity, courage and spirit, and he is a true role model who has provided inspiration to aspiring players of diverse backgrounds. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for helping to change our sport for the better. He is a true champion, in every sense of the word.”
Golf's leading governing bodies, national diversity-focused organizations, government officials and sports figures championed Sifford's cause. The PGA of America spearheaded the effort, assisted by the PGA TOUR, USGA, World Golf Foundation, 64 members of Congress and several notable athletes, including Tiger Woods, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Russell and Jim Brown.
“The PGA of America joins our friends throughout sports today in paying tribute to Dr. Charles Sifford upon receiving this prestigious honor,” said PGA of America interim President Derek Sprague. “The hard-fought efforts and perseverance of Dr. Sifford continue to inspire our industry to evolve and elevate all efforts in diversity and inclusion. We must be mindful and proactive in creating meaningful opportunities for everyone to participate in this great sport.”
Among those being honored with Sifford this year are former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, actresses Meryl Streep and Marlo Thomas, singer Stevie Wonder and activist Ethel Kennedy. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Sifford was born in Charlotte, N.C., and learned the game as a caddy. He could shoot par at the age of 13 and turned pro four years later, playing the United Golf Association Tour and winning five straight Negro National Opens.
But Sifford dreamed of following in the footsteps of Jackie Robinson, who was the first African-American to play major league baseball in 1946. He finally earned his card in 1960 when he was was 39 and a year later the PGA rescinded its "Caucasian-Only" clause.
Sifford went on to win the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 Los Angeles Open, now the Northern Trust Open, which has since created an exemption in his name to foster diversity in the game. He also won the 1975 Senior PGA Championship and 1980 Suntree Classic on the Champions Tour.
You're the grandpa I never had. Your past sacrifices allow me to play golf today. I'm so happy for you Charlie.— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) November 11, 2014
Voices from the World Golf Hall of Fame: Charlie Sifford