It has been 25 years since I became the first African-American
to play in the Masters, and time has healed many wounds. For
months before the 1975 Masters I got letters that said things
like "You'll never be able to tee it up in Augusta." Others
said, "I'll see you at Augusta, and I'll find out where you're
I was so scared that first year that I rented two houses--one on
Wheeler Road not too far from the course and another on
Washington Road--so people wouldn't know where I was staying. I
went back and forth between the houses during the week. I was
assigned a couple of bodyguards to follow my every step, but
they never followed me off the course. So when I went out at
night that week, I made sure I brought along at least 10 of the
55 friends and family members who had come to watch me play.
Things got worse before they got better. The second time I
played the Masters, in '78, the novelty of having a black in the
tournament had worn off, but some fans were still not ready to
accept me. I heard people in the gallery say, "Here comes that
nigger," but whenever that was said, everyone's attention turned
to that person, making it clear that the speaker was out of line.
Things have changed considerably. When my wife, Sharon, and I
arrived at Augusta last week, we needed no security and heard no
racial epithets. Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson greeted
us, just as Clifford Roberts had a quarter century ago. The only
difference was that Mr. Roberts's welcome was suspect while Mr.
Johnson's greeting was warm and sincere.
Much remains to be accomplished. Twenty-five years after my debut
in the Masters I'm disappointed that only one African-American,
Eldrick (Tiger) Woods, was in the field. Hopefully, through
programs like my Lee Elder National Junior Golf Program, more
Elders and Eldricks will play at Augusta National.
In six Masters, Lee Elder's best finish was 17th, in 1979.