JOHANNESBURG - Infamous for being behind the times, The Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club finally appointed Lee Elder – the first African-American to compete at the event in 1975 – as an honorary starter for this year’s edition, which began on Thursday. But why did it take so long?
Americans Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and South Africa’s Gary Player were the honorary starters at the event until 2016. Palmer died five months after The Masters in 2016, and since then it has just been Player and Nicklaus hitting the ceremonial opening tee shots.
Palmer was first appointed as the honorary starter at The Masters in 2007, with Nicklaus joining him in 2010 and Player taking his place in 2012.
And, like Palmer in 2016 who was too frail to hit a tee shot, Elder, 86, struggled to his feet when his name was announced as a starter this week. He was also on oxygen and sat for the remainder of the proceedings.
Augusta famously allowed its first women members only in 2012, which came after the event’s pre-Masters conference in April.
Augusta chairman Billy Payne declined to discuss the club’s policy on refusing women members. In August, Augusta finally admitted its first two women members: Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore.
Clearly not bitter about the timing of his inclusion as a starter, an emotional Elder said: "It's something I'll cherish the rest of my life.
"It was one of the most emotional experiences I've ever been involved in.
"To earn an invitation to The Masters and stand at that first tee was my dream and to have it come true in 1975 remains one of the greatest highlights of my career and life.
"To be invited back to the first tee one more time to join Jack and Gary means the world to me.”
Still, how much better would it have been to include Elder when he was in better health in 2017 when perhaps he could have joined Nicklaus and “Mr Fitness” Player in actually hitting a tee shot.
It would have been a nice touch by Augusta to have included Elder since then, but not surprising in a place known for being reactive rather than proactive.
Elder certainly deserved more.
African News Agency (ANA)