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Lee Elder, 86, will be an honorary starter at next year’s Masters. Courtesy photo
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Sports Talk: Rancho Bernardo’s Elder shattered Masters color barrier 45 years ago

Lee Elder has Georgia on his mind, especially after the Augusta National Golf Club delivered a peach of proposal.

Elder, of Rancho Bernardo, is celebrating the 45th anniversary of him being the first Black to play in the Masters.

He didn’t make the cut after shooting 74 and 78 at that historic 1975 event, but his impact rippled beyond the old-school scoreboards ringing the course.

“He meant a lot to us because he was the first and he was the one that I looked up to,” Tiger Woods, who has won five green jackets, once relayed to reporters. “Because of what he did I was able to play here and that was my dream.”

Elder experienced nightmares off the course when a man of his color tried to dine or find lodging.

“Yes, I did have threats,” Elder told CNN. “It was frightening. You try to eliminate the possibility of anything happening.”

At Augusta, that meant this first-timer had to rent two houses to keep the haters at bay.

That seems long ago. Especially with Augusta National honoring Elder’s trailblazing accomplishment by announcing the funding of a women’s golf program at nearby Paine College, a historically Black college. Two Lee Elder Scholarships, one for a man and woman, will also be established.

Elder’s bond with Paine is strong. The school president in 1975, Dr. Julius Scott, learned of Elder being denied service at a Washington, D.C., restaurant the week before the Masters.

Scott contacted Elder and told him the school’s cooks would prepare his meals during his Masters stay.

Elder’s high hopes would be accompanied by a full stomach when competing in the world’s most famous golfing invitational.

Paine is receiving its dividend for doing the right thing 45 years ago.

“We hope that this is a time for celebration and a time that will be a legacy, create a legacy, not only for Lee but for all of us that will last forever,” Augusta chairman Fred Ridley said in a video call with the media.

Elder, 86, vividly recalls his Masters debut, with the recollections returning from the instant the Augusta National clubhouse was in sight.

“Driving down Magnolia Lane, that’s a memory that nobody forgets,” Elder said in a video to reporters. “No matter how many times you come here, that’s always the fond memory. I know it is for me, and I’m pretty sure it is for a lot of players.”

But none of them faced the obstacles that Elder did, and he confronted them with class and character.

“When you are the first to do anything, especially a man of color … I had a lot of people behind me and that certainly helped,” he said.

Elder is slowed by a recent knee injury, but he guaranteed he’ll be fit in April. Part of the Masters tipping its cap to Elder was naming him, along with past champions Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, as an honorary starter for next year’s invitational.

Twenty-two years after Elder stared down racism in the Deep South, he was on hand for the 21-year-old Woods’ initial Masters victory.

“I had a good relationship with Tiger and got here on time on that Sunday to have a little chat with him and say, ‘Do the best that you possibly can and good luck with your game,’” Elder said.

It took more than good fortune for Elder to break the Masters’ color barrier.

In a game that revolves around red and black numbers, a Black man competing among Augusta’s pine trees and Azaleas reverberates today.

Broadcasting icon Vin Scully, who started his career with the Dodgers three years after Jackie Robinson became baseball’s first Black player, called his first Masters in 1975 for CBS. He saw numerous athletes of various races be compatible before society accepted it.

“Eventually maybe the world will discover that, and we will all be dead even,” Scully told The Coast News. “That is what I am hoping for. I pray for that.”

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports.