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R.I.P. Charlie Sifford

So soon after the World Golf Hall of Famer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November, Charlie Sifford has passed from complications of a recent stroke and bacterial infection. He was 92.

An ESPN wire services story ledes by noting that Sifford was "often called the Jackie Robinson of golf."

Cliff Pinckard with a social media roundup.

A Cleveland NewsNet5 story by Leon Bibb that aired at the time of Sifford's honor has been posted and remains relevant even after his passing.

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Reader Comments (29)

We never really talk about race on this blog. I guess that's not weird considering it's a golf blog but it is weird considering it's a sports blog and one filled with so many smart people.

Charlie's story -- including the context as it relates to our sport, warts and all -- needs to be told.
One can only imagine the record he and others would have compiled had they been allowed to play the Tour for their entire careers. At Medinah in 1959, for instance, he and Ted Rhodes shared the medal in the U.S. Open local qualifier at 2-over 144, with Rhodes' 67 in one round a stroke off the course record.
02.3.2015 | Unregistered CommenterGolden Bell
Maybe I'll be wrong - but someone may inevitably mention that Charlie could be gruff - if so, lets pause first to reflect on how we might have dealt with what he encountered - or not and cracked or quit.

There was a first-person historical column that ran in GD years ago called Backspin, Recall one by Larry Mowry where he shared some stories of traveling with Charlie by car back in the day. Surely playing golf was the easiest part of the challenges Charlie faced.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered CommenterTed Ray's Pipe
A little bit of research has shown me that, as so often in life, pioneers like Charlie Sifford built on the work of earlier brave people, others on here probably know about him, but this is the first time I'd heard of Theodore Rhodes . What a nasty explanation that little biography offers for the appearance of "Invitational" tournaments enabling the PGA to circumvent legal capitulation and continue their discriminatory practices.

Anyone facing the sort of stuff that these guys had to, with the lack of support from many who knew it was wrong but preferred a quiet life, would need to have been saintly not to have been permanently outraged, let alone a bit gruff from time to time.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered Commenterbs
When I first started paying attention to it, professional golf had Charlie Sifford, Pete Brown, Jim Dent, Lee Elder, and then maybe a bit later Jim Thorpe and Calvin Peete. Rest in Peace, Mr. Sifford. You fought the good fight.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
and Curtis Sifford. I remember him playing on the Tour. A nephew I believe?
02.4.2015 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
Great post Ky, all those guys came out of the caddie yard.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered CommenterConvert
R.I.P. Mr. Sifford. Never knew Mr. Sifford, but heard the stories of his battles. Remember the Larry Mowry story as they traveled together for a long time.

and don't forget George "G.G.' Johnson, he won the Azalea Open in 1971, George was a great guy.

Along with George , Chuck Thorpe, Nate Starks, Bobby Stroble are a few guys that I can remember playing with...........Pete Brown was a great guy as well, as was Dent and Calvin Peete.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered CommenterPro from Dover
Check out GC's Uneven Fairways (2009), which aired this year (and perhaps every year) on MLK Day.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered Commentergreg
We may have forgotten to mention Charlie Owens...very talented cross-handed player. Was he the first one to use the long putter (on the senior tour in the '80s)?
02.4.2015 | Unregistered Commentercypress
RIP Mr. Sifford.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered CommenterPA PLAYA
I love watching golf swings from the era before the teaching guru. There's something natural about trusting your own athletic ability. And for some reason, I feel like smoking a cigar.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered Commenterhighside
Why is that there were so many accomplished black players back then and only tiger Woods now? That seems odd and may have to do with what convert referenced about the caddy yard.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered Commentercottriab
Cypress, I think you are correct about the long-putter and C. Owens. Saw Charlie play in the Florida Open years and years ago. He played /lived in Winter Garden, outside Orlando. Before he got on the tour he was a local legend. A lot of players in that area played cross-handed and walked with a limp --- true story. First time I saw Charlie on Tour was at the tour event once held in Cincinnati, Kings Island. Fascinating story and even more fascinating was how well he could play hitting it cross-handed.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered CommenterPro from Dover
Pro - Thanks for the info on Charlie Owens. He played just about every year in the 70's in New Orleans and I used to watch him. I believe the leg injury that caused the limp was from an accident he had in the military as a paratrooper. Fantastic ball-striker. I once watched a money game on the Tuesday of tournament week between Charlie, George Johnson, Pete Brown, and Orville Moody and had a great time.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered Commentercypress
Thanks for bringing Charlie's passing to our attention, Geoff. As a fellow Clevelander, I couldn't be more proud of what he accomplished against all odds. If his life isn't an inspiration to us all, then we're simply not paying attention.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered CommenterWee Egg Mon
No one white will ever understand what these men went through just to play a game. The bravery in the face of odds that included death threats could certainly cause a ''yip'' in even the most focused mind.

RIP sir. You have brought so much to so many.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered Commenterdigsouth
There's a large Native American population near here and I've played with them a number of times. many play cross-handed, and well I might add.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered CommenterAG
Before the PGA of America’s “Caucasian only” rule was deleted black players like Charlie Sifford, Ted Rhodes, et al were able to play in Canadian Tournaments. In the deep, dim past the Canadian Open, operated by the RCGA, was not connected to the PGA’s tour and that heinous rule would not be applied.

In 1955 the Canadian Open was played at The Weston Golf & Country Club, in Toronto. That tournament is noted, around here, as Arnold Palmer’s 1st PGA victory (ironic, since the PGA had no part in the tournament). What few remember is that in the opening round Charlie Sifford shot a 63 which, to my knowledge, remains that Club’s competitive course record, 59 years later.

Anecdotally, the Club’s Head Pro, at the time, relates that Palmer (following his opening 64), was checking the scoreboard. Noting Charlie’s 63, but not Charlie standing near) remarked out loud, “How did he do that”? Charlie gruffly responded, "same as you, but one better”!

R.I.P> Charlie
02.4.2015 | Unregistered CommenterDiegeling
Pro, good call on some of those names from the past. As a kid at a local Tour event that came to town every year, I got to see many of those guys. For some reason I can envision them in their AMANA hats. Nate Starks always wore the bucket hat.

There was a school back in the day in college, Fayetteville State in North Carolina, that used to get the guys who were in the military and then stayed in town and attended college. I can remember 2 or 3 of those guys who played cross-handed and could shoot 75. Really amazing.Their coach was a legend from the old Negro Tour and probably teed it up along many of these legends like Sifford and Rhodes. They have won the National Minority Championship many times under his direction and I think he's still coaching.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
cottriab, that was the point I was trying to make. Caddying helps develop love of the game unlike any of the "grow the game" bullshit the corporate geniuses are promoting today.

Think of all the unfairness Sifford and others endured just to play golf, no way they put up with the injustices without serious love for the game.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered CommenterConvert
Harv, I played a lot of "non-tour" events against Nate, Bobby, and Chuck. They would finish very high if they were paired together. Jim doesn't have much to do with Chuck -- all three had talent until Nate and Bobby stole the semi-tuck full of MacGregor equipment from the Albany plant. Nicklaus would not press charges.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered CommenterPro from Dover
Convert, Since I believe you are a strong supporter of the caddy programs and seem to realize what an important part of golf history they have been (Hogan, Nelson, etc...) I thought you would like to hear about the caddie program at Streamsong in Florida. The caddies there get to play daily if they caddie, and this time of year they are caddying daily. Quite a deal for the boys and refreshing to see. Leads to a lot of good players being caddies at Streamsong as many aspiring professional players who don't have the money can play and practice there. Probably not going to bring more Charlie Siffords or Jim Dents to the game but it was still nice to see.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
Pro, The Thorpe brothers, pride of Roxboro, North Carolina.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
Ol Harv Oh yeah....they are the pride and joy of Roxboro for sure.

BTW, Tiger's performance in the Pro Am at Torrey Pines today is rumored to be same as last week re: use of the chipping utensils. Some one said "the weather was much better than Tiger's game".
02.4.2015 | Unregistered CommenterPro from Dover
Tiger had no time to practice. He was at LV's ski comp in Colorado. I sure hope he doesn't display that ground ball four-iron chip shot this week. Painful to watch.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
RIP Charlie, your love of golf won out, even as the people set up to guard it tried to run you out

And you did it without teammates, and without the active backing of most of your notable peers, or the press (Murray who was fantastic excepted).
02.4.2015 | Unregistered Commenterelf
Thanks Harv, I hadn't heard about the program at Streamsong, very cool.
02.4.2015 | Unregistered CommenterConvert
Chuck is caddying for Jim Thorpe this week
02.5.2015 | Unregistered CommenterLet's Say

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