The Loop

The Charlie Sifford Exemption

February 02, 2009

Charlie Sifford had no greater champion than the late Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray, who attempted to shame Augusta National into extending Sifford an invitation to the Masters. The invitation never came. Murray also routinely decried the PGA Tour's Caucasian Only rule that kept Sifford from playing the tour until the rule was finally tossed in 1961.

"Charlie Sifford is a golfer, an American, a gentleman," Murray once wrote. "He is not, however, a Caucasian. Until 1961, this seriously interfered with his life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, to say nothing of his occupation — because golf was a Members Only' club till then."

The thought occurred that other than Sifford himself, no one would have been as happy as Murray to see the Northern Trust Open nee the Los Angeles Open come up with an annual exemption into the tournament for a golfer "who represents the advancement of diversity in golf," and to call it the Charlie Sifford Exemption. Sifford won the Los Angeles Open in 1969. Murray was a member at Riviera. He loved Sifford and he loved Riviera.

The Northern Trust Open announced Monday that former Oregon State golfer Vincent Johnson received the first Charlie Sifford Exemption into its PGA Tour event at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades in two weeks. Vincent won two college tournaments, graduated in three years with a degree in finance, and turned professional, with the intention of playing the Gateway Tour this year.

"His talent and dedication to golf can serve as an inspiration to future golfers," Sifford said in a news release.

-- John Strege