IIt has been almost 50 years since Lee Elder became the first black man to play at the Masters, and five months since Augusta National announced that they were finally going to mark his achievement by inviting him to join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as one of honorary tournament holders.
So long that when the time finally came early Thursday morning, the 86-year-old elder couldn’t get up and hit a stick. Instead, he sat back and watched Player and Nicklaus do it. It was a poignant moment, despite the way Player (and caddy) son Wayne hovered over Elder’s shoulder holding a box of branded golf balls, like a model on the shopping channel.
It seemed like a bit of clumsy guerilla marketing. The player denied it. “The only thought from then on was that it would be great for the fans to know what ball my dad was playing with,” told Golf Digest, which also reported that it has a stake in that particular ball maker. That’s where it ends. If I have hurt people’s feelings, I am very sorry and I hope they forgive me. “
Later, the Augusta National social media team released another version of the footage in which Player’s box of balls appeared to have been cut out from the main shot, making it a freshly pressed part of the Augusta story, washed up. until it looked like this. That fits. Augusta, which was built on the site of a pre-war fruit plantation, has softened some of its own history. Player too.
In the press conference that he, Elder and Nicklaus gave later that morning, he told the story of the time he invited Elder to South Africa to play for the South African PGA. “In 1969 I think it was.” He was two years away, but, as he said, “As we get older, we don’t remember all the intricacies and details.” The intricacies and details like the comments he made in his 1966 book Grand Slam Golf, in which he spoke about his proud support for the apartheid architect, Hendrik Verwoerd.
The story of Elder’s journey is worth telling. He and his wife, Rose, traveled to Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, playing tournaments, giving lectures, clinics, and demonstrations at universities and schools. Elder donated all of his winnings to local charities and insisted that he would only play in South Africa if they agreed to allow black fans to watch.
According to Player, he had to personally persuade then-South African President John Vorster to let Elder come, and he did so at some cost. “They called me a traitor.” It is true that people on both sides of the apartheid debate criticized him and even faced death threats. But in telling it, he presents himself as a man on a crusade against apartheid. On Thursday he even described the Elder’s presence on the first Augusta tee that morning as “a historic moment for me” because “Lee Elder experienced many things that I also experienced in my life.” The black knight playing the white knight.
Others remember it differently. Vorster’s decision to allow Elder to come coincided with a new policy of allowing black athletes to compete in “multinational” sports competitions in an attempt to circumvent international boycotts. Player was a proud and outspoken supporter of the Vorster government before, during and after Elder’s journey, some even claim he was a propagandist for the regime. in a New York Times In an interview in 1975, Player said: “Big changes are happening here, I definitely feel that there is more love between black and white in South Africa than in any other country I have seen.”
At the time, Player was also working for the Sports Justice Committee, a public relations organization funded by the South African government to reject boycotts. The South African government was also paying him to play golf with American business executives in an attempt to persuade them not to withdraw their investments from the country.
Which is not to say that Player deserves to be condemned. Nelson Mandela wrote: “Few men in the history of our country did so much to enact political changes for the better that they eventually improved the lives of millions of their compatriots. Through his tremendous influence as a great athlete, Mr. Player accomplished what many politicians could not. “
He himself has spoken of how “I’ve said things that I regret, I’ve changed my mind about things. “Only an honest account of his history, of the history of his sport, would not be as fluid, direct or polished as he makes it sound.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism