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The Loop

A victory that helped change the face of pro golf

November 10, 2016

On this week of the Presidential Election, a momentous date dealing with civil rights is also being observed as it pertains to the golf world. Nov. 10 has significance twice over. Taken chronologically, this is the day in 1957 that Charlie Sifford, age 34, became the first African-American to win a major golf tournament when he won the Long Beach Open, using a putter he received from boxing great Joe Louis no less. The tournament was 54 holes and not an official PGA Tour event, but Sifford’s victory in a three-hole playoff with Eric Monti was significant nonetheless as it was a Jackie Robinson-type moment in golf. Among the stars in the field he beat were Billy Casper, Jay Hebert, Gene Littler, Jerry Barber, Gay Brewer, Tony Lema, Tommy Bolt, Harry Cooper and Mike Souchak.

The victory was an ironic bit of timing and foreshadowing, because for the two days after Sifford’s breakthrough, the PGA of America would hold its annual national meeting right there in Long Beach, Calif. The PGA was the same group that had a clause in its constitution that allowed Caucasians only for membership, and thus barred non-whites from playing in its tour events.

But four years later at the 1961 annual meeting in Hollywood, Fla., on another Nov. 10, the PGA of America removed that discriminatory clause from its constitution and paved the way for African-Americans to become members and thus play on tour. Shortly after, Sifford became the first black golfer to compete on the PGA Tour as a member, making Nov. 10 quite a special day in his career and African-American golfers who followed.