Golf Digest
TheElder StatesMan Image Credit: Golf Digest
TheElder StatesMan Image Credit: Golf Digest

The Elder States— Man

AT 85, LEE ELDER REFLECTS ON TRAILBLAZING, BIG-MONEY GAMES WITH TITANIC THOMPSON, AND THE TIME BILLY CASPER LOST TO A BATHTUB.

Guy Yocom

I JUST RECEIVED THE BOB JONES AWARD. It’s the biggest honor there is in golf. When you’re given an award by the USGA that goes out only once a year, you know it’s special. The presentation was during the week of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Accepting the award and speaking after Gary Player and Jim Nantz gave their introductions took some doing emotionally. After I finished, Jack Nicklaus approached me and said, “Lee, that was one of the finest speeches I’ve ever heard.” But it was Barbara Nicklaus who almost brought me to tears. She approached me privately, put her hand on my arm and said, “Jack has said so many nice things about you to me over the years. He admires you so much.” That statue has gone with me everywhere lately. It’s a heavy thing, and my wife, Sharon, has wrapped and unwrapped it a hundred times to show people. I’m always carrying on, scolding her not to hurt it. I can’t help it. It’s the nicest recognition I’ve received in my whole life.

I’M BEST KNOWN for being the first black man to compete in the Masters, back in 1975. The victory that got me into the Masters was the Monsanto Open in late April 1974. I beat Peter Oosterhuis in a playoff. After I holed out, the PGA Tour’s tournament director, Jack Tuthill, directed me to a police car. That surprised me because I expected the trophy presentation would be outdoors. I said, “What’s


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